Table of Contents
“Hercules,” I called. “C’mon, puss. Where are you?”
There was silence and then a faint “meow” from the other side of the closed door.
He was in there. Somehow he was in there. I grabbed the doorknob. Locked. I twisted the knob in frustration. Of course it was locked. The room was part of a murder investigation. And I’d just been trying to get inside. I yanked my hand away from the door like it was suddenly on fire.
Now my fingerprints were all over the door. I used the hem of my T-shirt to rub the doorknob. Then I dropped to my knees and polished the bottom section of the door where I’d looked for some kind of hidden access panel.
I caught a bit of my reflection in the brass kick panel and realized what I was doing. “You’re nuts,” I said aloud, sitting back on my heels.
I shouldn’t have touched the door at all. I took a couple of deep breaths. I should call the police, I realized. How else was I going to get Hercules out? Then I thought,
Oh, sure, call Detective Gordon and tell him my cat just walked through the door into the room
No, that wouldn’t make me look like a nutcase.
Was that what was wrong? Was I crazy? I remembered a psych prof in first year telling the class that if you could ask the question, then you weren’t. Of course, three-quarters of the time he came to class in his pajama bottoms.
Then I remembered how Owen had seemed to just materialize on Gregor Easton’s head, just the way he’d suddenly seemed to appear in midleap, chasing that bird in the backyard.
I couldn’t breathe. Was it possible? Did my cats have some kind of magical ability?
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First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, February 2011
eISBN : 978-1-101-47705-2
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There are many people who have helped take the Magical Cats from an idea to a completed book, and I owe them all my thanks. Thank you to my agent, Kim Lionetti, for answering endless questions and never losing her patience, and to Jacky Sach for making everything happen. Thank you to my editor, Jessica Wade, whose editorial skills make me look good.
Thanks also go to Lorraine Bartlett, who urged me to write this story, and to Judy Gorham, Susan Evans, and Janet Koch, who have always been terrific cheerleaders.
A special thank-you to the Guppies; a more supportive group of writers doesn’t exist.
And a big thank-you to Dr. Jennifer Brown, veterinarian, who answered all my questions about cats. Any errors or out-of-character cat behavior in these pages is due to my playing with the facts.
And last, thanks to Patrick and Lauren, who make it all worthwhile. Always.
he body was smack in the middle of my freshly scrubbed kitchen floor. Fred the Funky Chicken, minus his head.
“Owen!” I said, sharply.
“Owen, you little fur ball, I know you did this. Where are you?”
There was a muffled “meow” from the back door. I leaned around the cupboards. Owen was sprawled on his back in front of the screen door, a neon yellow feather sticking out of his mouth. He rolled over onto his side and looked at me with the same goofy expression I used to get from stoned students coming into the BU library.
I crouched down next to the gray-and-white tabby. “Owen, you killed Fred,” I said. “That’s the third chicken this week.”
The cat sat up slowly and stretched. He padded over to me and put one paw on my knee. Tipping his head to one side he looked up at me with his golden eyes. I sat back against the end of the cupboard. Owen climbed onto my lap and put his two front paws on my chest. The feather was still sticking out of his mouth.
I held out my right hand. “Give me Fred’s head,” I said. The cat looked at me unblinkingly. “C’mon, Owen. Spit it out.”
He turned his head sideways and dropped what was left of Fred the Funky Chicken’s head into my hand. It was a soggy lump of cotton with that lone yellow feather stuck on the end.
“You have a problem, Owen,” I told the cat. “You have a monkey on your back.” I dropped what was left of the toy’s head onto the floor and wiped my hand on my gray yoga pants. “Or maybe I should say you have a chicken on your back.”
The cat nuzzled my chin, then laid his head against my T-shirt, closed his eyes and started to purr.
I stroked the top of his head. “That’s what they all say,” I told him. “You’re addicted, you little fur ball, and Rebecca is your dealer.”
Owen just kept on purring and ignored me. Hercules came around the corner then. “Your brother is a catnip junkie,” I said to the little tuxedo cat.
Hercules climbed over my legs and sniffed the remains of Fred the Funky Chicken’s head. Then he looked at Owen, rumbling like a diesel engine as I scratched the side of his head. I swear there was disdain on Hercules’ furry face. Stick catnip in, on or near anything and Owen squirmed with joy. Hercules, on the other hand, was indifferent.
The stocky black-and-white cat climbed onto my lap, too. He put one white paw on my shoulder and swatted at my hair.
“Behind the ear?” I asked.
“Meow,” the cat said.
I took that as a yes, and tucked the strands back behind my ear. I was used to long hair, but I’d cut mine several months ago. I was still adjusting to the change in style. At least I hadn’t given in to the impulse to dye my dark brown hair blond.
“Maybe I’ll ask Rebecca if she has any ideas for my hair,” I said. “She’s supposed to be back tonight.” At the sound of Rebecca’s name Owen lifted his head. He’d taken to Rebecca from the first moment he’d seen her, about two weeks after I’d brought the cats home.
Both Owen and Hercules had been feral kittens. I’d found them, or more truthfully they’d found me, about a month after I’d arrived in town. I had no idea how old they were. They were affectionate with me, but wouldn’t allow anyone else to come near them, let alone touch them. That hadn’t stopped Rebecca, my backyard neighbor, from trying. She’d been buying both cats little catnip toys for weeks now, but all she’d done was turn Owen into a chicken-decapitating catnip junkie. She was on vacation right now, but Owen had clearly managed to unearth a chicken from a secret stash somewhere.
I stroked the top of his head again. “Go back to sleep,” I said. “You’re going cold turkey . . . or maybe I should say cold chicken. I’m telling Rebecca no more catnip toys for you. You’re getting lazy.”
Owen put his head down again, while Hercules used his to butt my free hand. “You want some attention, too?” I asked. I scratched the spot, almost at the top of his head, where the white fur around his mouth and up the bridge of his nose gave way to black. His green eyes narrowed to slits and he began to purr, as well. The rumbling was kind of like being in the service bay of a Volkswagen dealership.
I glanced up at the clock. “Okay, you two. Let me up. It’s almost time for me to go and I have to take care of the dearly departed before I do.”
I’d sold my car when I’d moved to Minnesota from Boston, and because I could walk everywhere in Mayville Heights, I still hadn’t bought a new one. Since I had no car, I’d spent my first few weeks in town wandering around exploring, which is how I’d stumbled on Wisteria Hill, the abandoned Henderson estate. Everett Henderson had hired me at the library.
Owen and Hercules had peered out at me from a tumble of raspberry canes and then followed me around while I explored the overgrown English country garden behind the house. I’d seen several other full-grown cats, but they’d all disappeared as soon as I got anywhere close to them. When I left, Owen and Hercules followed me down the rutted gravel driveway. Twice I’d picked them up and carried them back to the empty house, but that didn’t deter them. I looked everywhere, but I couldn’t find their mother. They were so small and so determined to come with me that in the end I’d brought them home.