The Scariest Tail (A Wonder Cats Mystery Book 4)

The Scariest Tail
A Wonder Cats Mystery Book 4
Harper Lin

T
his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

THE SCARIEST TAIL Copyright © 2016 by Harper Lin.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the author.

www.harperlin.com

John Roy

C
ontrary to popular belief
, witches rarely stare into bubbling cauldrons of smoky liquid in order to see what is going on in the world. Movies and books might show a lot of that, but we actually get most of our information the old-fashioned way: through neighborhood gossip.

My Aunt Astrid is the only one of us witches in the Greenstone family who can actually see the future. But even she has to rely on the universe to decide what she should see and when. For example, she wouldn’t know when a person is going to die, but she can predict a nasty fall on some ice this upcoming winter. Slipping in and out of dimensions is second nature to her—as easy as slipping on ice, I suppose.

Most people think she is just an old hippie who saw one too many Grateful Dead concerts. Wild, graying hair hangs in lovely tendrils around her face, and she always wears gypsy skirts and blouses. Sometimes, Aunt Astrid will just be staring into space, and people will think she’s zoning out.

The truth is, she’s watching something happen in a parallel universe. Sometimes it’s important. Sometimes it’s just amusing. Sometimes it’s downright scary, like it was this particular Thursday when we were all at Bea’s house for dinner.

Bea is my cousin. She and I have been the best of friends since Aunt Astrid adopted me after my parents died. I had a normal childhood as far as I was concerned, but I missed my parents. I still do. If it weren’t for Bea and her special talent, well, I shudder to think of what might have happened to me.

All the Greenstone women are witches. Our paranormal lineage predates the Salem Witch Trials by at least a couple hundred years. I’m not trying to brag, but we are sort of like witchcraft royalty… except that no one knows we are witches.

I blame Hollywood. Whether it is seeing the future, communicating with the dead, or manipulating the weather, these are gifts no witch asked for. We were just born with them. But the movies and television have us running around naked in the woods, sacrificing children and animals, or even worse, we are portrayed as dingbat beauty queens who ask permission to take a leaf off a tree. Yikes. We are nothing like that. Posers might be like that, wearing black all the time and carrying around Anton LeVay’s satanic bible, but real witches are good.

The Greenstones have taken a vow to keep our special talents secret and only use them for good. I have to admit that is sometimes hard for a person like me who would love to have tossed a pimple spell or flatulence curse on one or two people I’ve experienced in my lifetime. Like Darla Castellano. She’s been my sworn enemy since high school, and I just can’t say enough bad things about her. But this story isn’t about Darla. It’s about something much, much worse. I didn’t know such a thing even existed, but I learned Darla was an evil easily controlled. There are things out there, darker things, that can’t be.


I
’m not saying
I don’t like your meatloaf,” I argued with my cousin Bea.

“I told you, it isn’t meat,” she said. “It’s a mushroom loaf with half a dozen exotic mushrooms. You didn’t even notice the difference.”

Once a month for the last several years, my cousin Bea has had Aunt Astrid and me over to her house for dinner. We all lived on the same block. I lived in the little white house with black shutters. Bea and her husband Jake lived five houses down in the lovely two-story yellow house. Across the street between our two houses was the fabulous brownstone with stained glass windows in which Bea’s mother, my Aunt Astrid, lived.

“I did notice the difference,” I said to Bea. “I knew this wasn’t meat. I just didn’t want to say anything in case this wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out.”

I always teased Bea about her cooking but only because I admired what she could do with a can of beans and some homemade chicken stock. She insisted on eating healthy.

She smiled from across her kitchen island. “It doesn’t hurt you to eat something that isn’t greasy for a change.”

“What are you talking about? I brought the salad.” I had to defend myself from her vegan bombardment.

“It’s taco salad.”

I started to laugh. “Yes, but as you can see, there is very little meat. It’s mostly beans.”

“Great.” Bea laughed. “That will be pleasant later on tonight when we’re playing Scrabble.”

Even Aunt Astrid cracked up at that one.

Once I regained my composure, I assured Bea that I did indeed like her mushroom loaf. It was actually very delicious and certainly better than the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich I would have prepared for myself if I’d been alone at home. I was pretty sure that one of the reasons Bea had us over for dinner was to make sure I had vegetables in my meal at least once a month.

Bea was a health nut and was convinced that a healthy body attracted healthy energy. She could see when she touched people whether or not their energy was helping or hindering them. So on top of creating healthy and tasty treats for us at home, she shared the positive mojo through her special teas, coffees, and food that were served at the Brew-Ha-Ha Café where we all worked together six days a week.

Just then, I felt a warm fuzziness around my ankle. Looking down, I was happy to see the golden fur of Peanut Butter, Bea’s cat.

“Meow,” he blurted out.

“Where is your buddy, Marshmallow?”
I asked telepathically.

“She’s on the ledge in the window, looking out front,”
Peanut Butter replied back to me.
“I think I heard some scratching in the wall by the closet. I’m going to sit there.”
Leaving my side, he went to go inspect the mysterious scratching.

“If you catch the mouse, make sure to leave it in Jake’s slipper,”
I said to him, chuckling to myself.

I could talk to animals. Cats seemed to be the easiest for me to communicate with, but I could get into a good conversation with just about anything that walked on four legs. In fact, I often thought I was better at communicating exactly what I meant to my furry friends than I ever could to the majority of the human race.

Marshmallow was Aunt Astrid’s cat. She was older, gray, and super powerful just like Aunt Astrid. At that moment, Marshmallow appeared in the hallway just outside the kitchen. She looked at me with dreamy, half-closed eyes.

“Did I hear my name?”
She sat down on her back legs and began to groom.

“Just wondering where you were. Is there anything happening outside?”
I asked.

Marshmallow yawned. I took that as a no.

We finished our meal of mushroom loaf with taco salad, and we were just about to start our board game and dig into the fresh-baked apple pie Aunt Astrid had made when the lights of a car pulling into the driveway flashed past the windows. Jake was home.

“He’s home a bit early, isn’t he?” Aunt Astrid asked, looking at her watch.

“Must have been a slow night.” Bea pulled a plate down from her cupboard and sliced a thick piece of mushroom loaf then popped it in the microwave.

“Don’t forget to give him some salad,” I said, winking at my cousin.

I heard the front door open and Jake’s footsteps start toward the kitchen. Then the footsteps stopped, went back toward the door, then turned and came back toward where we were sitting. I felt something shift in the air. Jake wasn’t home because it was a slow night. On the contrary, something had happened.

Finally, he stepped into the kitchen and stood for just a second in the doorway. Bea had her back to him as she fiddled with the microwave door.

“Hey, honey,” Bea said. “They let you guys out a little early?” She turned and looked at him. “Jake? What’s the matter?”

When I looked at him, the first thing that popped into my mind was that something bad had happened to his partner Blake Samberg. I would never verbalize that thought, not in a million years. But for a few terrifying seconds, I thought maybe Blake had been hurt or worse.

Blake Samberg was the latest addition to the Wonder Falls Police Department, and he was a no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’am, you-can’t-handle-the-truth kind of detective. He was also rude, especially to me. But he had the most handsome face—intense dark eyes framed with thick eyebrows. His shoulders were straight and square as though they could support a barn ceiling. Too bad he felt the need to continually tell me I was wrong in every aspect of life, from parking my car to walking at night to washing dishes.

I had seen him on a few occasions when he was in interrogation mode, and he seemed to be the yang to the kind and patient good-cop, Jake. That was probably why they made such a good team.

So I held my breath as Jake came in slowly. Since I was closest to him, I stood up so he could sit on the stool where I’d been perched. Going to the fridge, I pulled out a bottle of water and handed it to him.

“I’m all right,” he said, almost as though the words were confusing.

Oh, no.
It is Blake.

“Where is Blake?” Aunt Astrid asked as if reading my mind. I looked at her a little suspiciously, but she just watched Jake.

“He’s radioing in that we’re here. He’ll be in in a minute.” Jake took another swallow of water, and I let my breath out, hopeful no one had noticed.

Just then, I heard the front door squeak open and shut. Solid, loud, confident footsteps marched along the hardwood floor and into the kitchen. Blake nodded his greeting and stepped up to the island.

“Hello, Blake. It’s so nice to see you.” Aunt Astrid gave him a hug and offered him her seat.

“Nice to see you too, Astrid. Please, no. I’m fine.”

Whatever had happened seemed to take its toll on Jake, but Blake seemed relatively in control of himself. I went to the fridge, grabbed him a bottle of water, and without a word, handed it to him. He reached out and took it, his eyes locking on mine, and I felt a blush coming on. Quickly, I turned away, walking around the island and pulling a few more plates down for the guys to have some apple pie.

By the time I turned back around, I could feel my cheeks were no longer red.

“Bea,” Jake began, “do you remember John Roy?”

Bea looked up to the ceiling for a moment. “John Roy? The name sounds familiar, but I can’t nail it down.”

“He was on the softball team, remember? Kind of balding, a bit on the pudgy side but real nice. He had that wife with the blond hair.”

Bea began to nod her head. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, she was a really nice woman. She wrote children’s books, didn’t she?”

“Yeah. And he was a lawyer,” Jake said, his face becoming grave.

“Why? What happened?”

“He killed himself today.”

Urban Legend


W
hat
?” Bea asked, clutching her throat.

“Oh, no.” Aunt Astrid sadly shook her head.

I just watched. I didn’t know the man or his wife, but suicides always bothered me. Maybe I was troubled because I knew there was almost always something else at play that motivated a person to do such a thing. Or maybe it was because I just hated to think of the pain and loss always left in the wake of such an action. Obviously, it had bothered Jake.

“Did he leave a note?” Bea asked the only hopeful question to which the answer was almost always no.

“We don’t know yet. His wife, Lisa, was inconsolable. We didn’t have a chance to interview her.” Jake took another drink of water. “I just don’t get it. He was a really nice guy. I mean, they lived in Prestwick, not a cheap part of town. He had a good job and a pretty wife and was always in a good mood whenever I saw him. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Prestwick?” I asked. “Darla Castellano lives there. Maybe he spoke with her.”

All heads turned and looked at me.

“What?” was all I could ask.

“No,” Jake said. “They lived in the same neighborhood but at opposite ends.”

Bea rubbed Jake’s hand. “Honey, I am so sorry. Are you hungry at all?”

“Not really,” Jake replied.

“I could use a bite.” Blake raised his right hand to get Bea’s attention.

“Of course, Blake.” Bea smiled. “Cath, get Blake some silverware. We had mushroom loaf. It’s like meatloaf, only with mushrooms and a thick brown gravy.” She set the plate she had heated in front of Blake, who dug right in.

“Tastes wonderful,” Blake said. “Do you use oregano?”

“I used just a pinch with old-fashioned salt and pepper.”

“Next time, may I suggest a little cilantro instead of the oregano? Not a lot because it can be overwhelming but maybe a teaspoon. You’d be surprised.”

I rolled my eyes.

“That does sound good.” Bea nodded. “That might be something for the café.”

I looked at Jake, who was busy studying the droplets of water that had formed on the outside of the bottle he was holding.

Stepping a little closer to him, I put my hand on his. “You okay?”

He looked at me and smiled.

Jake was the big brother I never had. I was thrilled when he and Bea got married, and after some rocky terrain and a few harsh words, the two of them were really dedicated to each other.

Jake was the only outsider who knew we were all witches. He didn’t know the extent of our powers. Once or twice, he had seen Bea in action, and he realized how lucky he was to be with her. Plus, he was the only other person besides me who didn’t think the Scrabble board was relegated to polite words only. Poop was a word too.

“Yeah, Cath. I’m okay.” He took a deep breath. “But did you ever get the feeling that there is something headed your way, but you didn’t know what it was or when it would get here?”

“Sometimes,” I said.

“That’s how I feel.” He looked sad, but when he looked at Bea, his face brightened a little. She had that kind of soothing effect. “Bea, I’m going to go upstairs and take a shower.”

“Good idea, honey. Would you like some tea?”

“That would be nice. Thanks. Ladies, Blake, if you’ll excuse me.”

Before Jake could make his way up the stairs, Blake followed him into the hallway where they were out of earshot. Peanut Butter sat there, still listening for the scratching inside the wall.

“Hey!
” I called to him in my mind.
“What are the guys talking about?”

Peanut Butter looked at me then up at the men who were right in front of him.
“Um, something about getting the whole story. Something about not panicking, and that kind of stuff isn’t true… an urban legend
.”

Peanut Butter then stood up, stretched his muscles, and strolled my way, only he avoided me altogether and went to lie on the grate in the corner of the kitchen where the warm air came up from the furnace.

It was early October, and the leaves were just starting to change. The heat was kicking on more frequently, and the skies were grayer than usual. I loved it. Cold weather suited me better than a bathing suit ever did. If the temps required big, bulky sweaters and boots, then I was happy.

But the other things that happened in October could get a bit out of hand. On the paranormal front, there was no denying that things became more active. A suicide in town could have had something to do with the time of year, or it might just have been an unhappy coincidence… but I didn’t believe in coincidences.

What urban legend were they talking about? It could have been a million things. Perhaps Jake had a wart and wanted to rub a toad on it so it would go away. Maybe he wanted to call Bloody Mary in a mirror three times. Those two cops could’ve been talking about anything. That was what I got for eavesdropping.

After their little exchange, Jake went upstairs, and Blake came back into the kitchen with us girls to finish his meal.

“Blake, did you know John Roy too?” Aunt Astrid asked.

“No, ma’am, I didn’t. I’m not on the softball team. I’m more of a chess player.” His face was as friendly as that of a stone gargoyle.

“We were going to play Scrabble tonight,” Aunt Astrid said. “You are more than welcome to join us.”

For a second, I froze, waiting for Bea or Aunt Astrid to tell Blake I had eaten the beans in my taco salad. Thankfully, they spared me the humiliation.

“I’d like to, but I can’t. I have some things I need to do before I call it a night.” He stood up, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin.

“Well, at least take a slice of pie home for dessert.” Aunt Astrid cut him a thick slice. It was almost half the pie. There went the slice I’d planned to take home myself to have for breakfast.

“I’m going to go check on Jake.” Bea headed toward the stairs. “Will we see you tomorrow for breakfast, Blake?”

“Yes. It’s my turn to drive, so I’ll be here at the regular time.”

Bea smiled and waved good-bye then went to tend to her husband.

I stepped on the wooden step stool Bea kept in the corner of the kitchen and pulled a Tupperware box down, handing it to my aunt. She gently scooped the pie into the container, snapped it shut, and handed it to Blake with a smile.

“How is the new puppy?” she asked, making me do a double take.

“You have a dog?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes.” He looked more at Aunt Astrid than me. “I picked him up from that animal shelter you visit so often.”

“Old Murray’s place?” I couldn’t help but smile. Old Murray had often taken in Treacle after he’d been out tomcatting around for a couple of nights. He’d given Treacle a nice brushing before I’d come to pick him up. He took very good care of all his animals, which was important to me.

“Yes.” Blake finally looked at me. “He’s not really a puppy, though. Mr. Murray had told me he was hoping someone would rescue the canine soon, and when I heard that…” He looked back at Aunt Astrid. “I had to take him home with me.”

“You are a good man, Detective. What did you name him?” my aunt asked, smiling.

“I was told his name was Frank. I thought it fit.”

“What kind of dog is he?” I asked.

“I wasn’t really looking for a specific breed,” Blake snapped back.

“No, I didn’t think you were. I just wondered if he was—”

“I mean if I wanted a purebred, I would have gotten one.”

“Well, yeah, of course, but—”

“It has been proven over and over that mutts often display higher levels of intelligence than even the most highly trained German shepherd or Doberman.”

“I’ve heard that too,” Aunt Astrid piped up. That comment earned her a glare from me.

“Okay, well, that was all…” Before I could even finish the sentence, Blake had his king-size slice of pie in his hands and was heading toward the front door.

“I really have to get going. Please tell Jake I’ll swing by Mrs. Roy’s house tonight and check on her. Thanks again for the pie.” And out the door he went.

I looked at my aunt. She just smiled at me and began cleaning up the kitchen.

“Okay, you were here,” I said. “You saw how he acted toward me. What is that guy’s problem?”

“I’m really not sure what you’re talking about, Cath. Detective Samberg is a very intense man. He’s single. He’s used to things being a certain way. His line of work must be stressful and demanding, so that’s how he copes.”

“Why are you sticking up for him?” I asked while running water in the sink so I could help rinse off the dirty dishes. I handed each one to my aunt, who then loaded them into the dishwasher. “He’s never nice to me.”

“Oh, you’re exaggerating.”

“You heard him just now.” I shook my head in defeat. “You can’t ask that guy a simple question without getting some kind of condescending dissertation as a reply.”

My aunt chuckled. Just then, Bea appeared.

“How’s the big guy doing?” I asked.

“He’s all right. Tired. That kind of news makes the body feel like it just ran a marathon it hadn’t trained for. He’s washing up, and I told him to get into bed, put on some old movie, and leave the tube on until he falls asleep. His mind needs to zone out for a little while.”

She picked up the bowl my salad had been in and brought it to me at the sink. “Thanks for helping.”

I furrowed my eyebrows. “Of course. You look like you’ve got something else on your mind.”

Bea was so much more to me than my cousin. She was my best friend, and as scary as it might be, she knew more about my past than anyone else. I trusted her with it. I was able to confide in her, knowing that if I asked her to keep something under her hat, no other soul would ever pull that secret from her. And of course, the feeling was mutual.

So when I saw her face with a few extra worry wrinkles around the eyes, I had to ask.

“I’m wondering why this is bothering Jake so much.” She climbed up on one of the stools at her island and sat down. “He’s usually pretty good at leaving the office
at
the office, you know. But this… this is different. There’s a bee in his bonnet.”

“Well, you take care of him, and we’ll get out of your hair,” Aunt Astrid said, wiping her hands on a towel then handing it to me to do the same. She walked over to the corner of the room and scooped up the heavy Persian cat. Marshmallow purred her approval and nuzzled my aunt’s chin.

“Call me if you need me,” I said to Bea.

“Even if I don’t, I might call you anyways.” She leaned in and gave me a peck on the cheek. Then she hugged her mom, scratched Marshmallow’s head, and we left the house.

The sun set earlier at this time of year, and the temperature had dropped a good ten degrees since we’d arrived at Bea’s house around five o’clock that evening. My long-sleeve blouse was barely enough material to keep out the chill.

Someone on the block had their fireplace burning. The smell of the smoldering wood brought back memories of Halloweens past and piles of fall leaves that I had jumped in over the years.

“The air smells good,” I said, walking my aunt to her house. I looked at her when she didn’t reply. “What’s on your mind?”

Still, my aunt said nothing. She just looked ahead as we walked across the street.

“She sees something,”
Marshmallow said. “
Something is coming.”

“Is it bad or good?”
I asked.

“I don’t know. But it’s weaving in and out of the dimensions. She’s looking but can’t seem to get a lock on it.”

“Does it have anything to do with Jake? Or Mr. Roy?”

“It’s too early to tell.”

“What was that you were saying, Cath?” Aunt Astrid finally asked.

“Oh, I was just babbling about how much I like fall. What were you looking at?”

“I’m not sure yet, honey. It might be nothing, but then again…”

Standing at the edge of my aunt’s porch, I waited in the warm yellow glow of her porch light as she let herself and Marshmallow inside.

“See you at the café tomorrow,” she said waving. She would shut the door then stand in the window and watch me cross the street again, and let myself into my own home. It was a ritual, ensuring everyone made it home safely.

Once my key had flipped the lock and I switched the foyer light on, I waved back to her, stepped inside, and locked the door behind me.

I went and turned on a couple of lights, making sure everything looked as though it was where it should be. Then I heard scratching at my kitchen window.

“I wonder who that is?” I asked out loud.

Pulling the curtain aside, I saw those jade-green eyes I had grown to love. Flipping the latch, I slid the window and the screen up, and in came Treacle.

“It’s getting cold out there,”
I said to him.

“Yes, it is. I’m hungry.”

“Okay, how about some yummy salmon and bacon Friskies?”

“Yes, yes, yes
.” He purred, rubbing his head back and forth against my leg.

After Treacle had filled his belly and begun his grooming process, we both curled up in my bed to watch a black-and-white movie about a detective, a double-cross, and a damsel in distress.

“So, what’s new in the world?”
I asked Treacle. “
Anything exciting going on out there?”

Treacle looked at me with contented, sleepy eyes, his tail gently waving as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
“Actually, no,” h
e replied. “
And that in itself is a little weird.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, it might be nothing, but I saw the curler lady out raking leaves.”

“You mean Mrs. Greene?”

Mrs. Greene got her newspaper every morning while she still had curlers in her hair, and not the trendy new soft kind that someone could practically sleep in. We were talking the old-fashioned, plastic, bristly kind that poked your head.

“Yeah, she was out raking her leaves,” Treacle said. “I followed a field mouse into her wood pile, and while I was waiting it out, I watched her. It was like she kept raking the same spot over and over again. Then the next day, I happened to be at the same wood pile, and it was like she hadn’t moved from the day before.”

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