Authors: Laurie Cass
Tailing a Tabby
“What’s not to love about a bookmobile, a bookmobile driver who lives on a houseboat on a lake, and a friendly cat? . . . The librarian and her cat in the traveling bookmobile . . . make me eager to read future adventures featuring these two. Humor, a good plot, easy reading, likable characters, great setting.”
“This book was almost impossible to put down. . . . The story is filled with humor and warmth.”
“At times laugh-out-loud funny, at other time[s] touching, while many other times are fraught with hair-raising events. . . . If, like me, you can’t get better entertainment than a novel that includes a cat, an intelligent, thoroughly modern Nancy Drew, and books that are part of a library or a bookstore, you will want to read this as soon as possible!”
—Open Book Society
“With humor and panache, Cass delivers an intriguing mystery and interesting characters.”
Bristol Herald Courier
“A quick, fun, delightful read. You won’t want to put it down until the very last page!”
—Reader to Reader Reviews
Lending a Paw
“A charming start to the new Bookmobile Cat series. Librarian Minnie Hamilton is kindhearted, loyal, and resourceful. And her furry sidekick, Eddie, is equal parts charm and cat-titude. Fans of cozy mysteries—and cats—will want to add this series to their must-read lists.”
New York Times
bestselling author Sofie Kelly
“The first in the series charms with a likable heroine, feisty and opinionated cat, and multidimensional small-town characters.”
—Kings River Life Magazine
“A pleasurable, funny read. Minnie is a delight as a heroine, and Eddie could make even a staunch dog lover more of a cat fan.”
“This debut cozy is full of surprises and a lovely small-town setting. Chilson, Michigan, sounds like a place many readers will want to return to again and again. A great debut in a new series!”
—Debbie’s Book Bag
“This delightfully charming whodunit is a welcome addition to the cozy genre . . . a terrific read.”
—Dru’s Book Musings
“A pleasant read. . . .[Minnie is] a spunky investigator.”
Lending a Paw
Tailing a Tabby
Published by the Penguin Group
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A Penguin Random House Company
First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright © Janet Koch, 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To all who have known the love of a good cat.
ome people are practically born knowing what they want to do with their lives. People like my older brother, who had his life plan scrawled out on a piece of paper by age seven, are the kind of folks who move from one goal to another, ticking things off their lists and achieving Big Things.
Other people wander through their early years without a clear path in mind, but still end up where they should have been all along. These would be people like my best friend, Kristen, who enjoyed high school chemistry so much that when the college-major decision came up, biochemistry seemed the obvious choice, and she ended up with a PhD. As it turned out, however, she did not enjoy working for a large pharmaceutical company, so she quit, came home to northern Michigan, kicked around ideas about what to do with the rest of her life, and opened up Three Seasons, which quickly became one of the finest restaurants in the region.
Then there’s me.
From age ten I knew I wanted to be a librarian, but beyond that I had no course charted out for my life.
When I found a posting for assistant director at the district library in Chilson, Michigan, not long after I was handed my master’s degree in library and information science, though, I felt a ping of fate.
Chilson is a small tourist town in the northwest part of Michigan’s lower peninsula. It was where I’d spent childhood summers with my aunt Frances. It was where I’d met Kristen. It is a land of lakes and hills and has a laid-back atmosphere where “business casual” means “clean jeans and a shirt without too many wrinkles.” It was my favorite place in the entire world, and getting my dream job in a dream location was something I could not possibly have planned.
Of course, there were drawbacks, and that wasn’t even counting the facts that at thirty-three I was never going to grow past the five-foot mark, that my curly black hair was never going to straighten, and that I didn’t know how my beloved new bookmobile would handle the upcoming winter.
“He’s doing it again, Minnie,” Aunt Frances said.
We were sitting in her kitchen, because although the dining room that overlooked the tree-filled backyard was a lovely place to eat during the warm months, when the weather grew cooler, chill drafts curled around our ankles and the two of us beat a happy retreat to the warmth of the kitchen.
In summer, though, the kitchen wasn’t nearly big enough, because in June through August my aunt took in boarders. Six, to be exact: three female and three male, each of whom was single and unattached.
My aunt had an extensive interview process for her summer folks. Though she told the prospective boarders that she wanted to determine compatibility for the unusual living arrangements (the boarders cooked
Saturday breakfast), she was actually starting her process of secret matchmaking. No one ever knew that they were being set up, and, in her years of taking in boarders, she’d failed only once, and even that wasn’t a complete failure.
But that had been last summer, back in the days of warmth and sunshine and a town busy with tourists. Now, in early November, the summer residents were long gone, the tourists wouldn’t be back until late May, and my aunt and I were rattling around in a house far too big for two, even with most of the upstairs rooms closed off.
Of course, sometimes it wasn’t nearly big enough for three, considering the nature of the third.
“Do you hear him?” Aunt Frances asked.
I did. I started to stand, but she waved me down. “Finish your breakfast. I’ll clean up his mess after the two of you leave. It’s not—”
Eddie, my black-and-white tabby cat, padded into the room and jumped onto my lap. His head poked up over the tabletop and he reached forward.
“Not a chance, pal.” I moved the bowl of oatmeal out of his reach. “You know the rules.”
Aunt Frances laughed. “He may know the rules, but I don’t think he has any intention of following them.”
Gently, I pushed at his head, trying to make him lie down, but he pushed it back up.
Down I pushed.
Up he came.
“You know he’s going to win,” Aunt Frances said.
“Shhh, don’t let him know.”
“From the noises we just heard, I’d say he already won the battle with the toilet paper.”
In summer, I lived at a marina on a small houseboat, but Eddie and I moved to the boardinghouse after my aunt’s guests were gone and the weather started to turn. Since then, Eddie had discovered that his new favorite toy was the roll of toilet paper in the kitchen’s half bath. And to Eddie, a toy couldn’t be a favorite unless he did his best to destroy it. Happily, toilet paper wasn’t expensive. At least in small quantities.
“You know,” I told the top of his head, “even things that aren’t expensive can get that way if you have to buy them new every day.”
Eddie had gone through bouts of destructiveness with paper products all summer long, and it looked as if the trend was going to continue. What he’d be like in the winter, I didn’t know, because I’d only had Eddie since late April.
I’d gone for a walk on an unseasonably warm day and found myself wandering through the local cemetery, enjoying the view of Janay Lake. My calm reverie had been broken by the appearance of a cat, who had materialized next to the gravesite of Alonzo Tillotson, born 1847, died 1926.
Though I’d assumed the cat had a home and had tried to shoo him away, he’d followed me back into town and charmed the socks off me by purring and rubbing up against my ankles.
I’d taken him to the vet, where I’d been told that my new friend was about two years old and needed ear drops. I’d run a Found notice in the newspaper, but even though I’d dutifully paid for a normal-sized advertisement instead of the tiny one I would have preferred, no one had called. Eddie was mine.
Or I was his. One of those.
“I’ll stop and stock up on my way home.” I got up and took our dishes to the white porcelain sink, which was so old it was trendy again. I’d seen similar ones in antiques stores selling for bizarrely large sums of money and realized that my aunt could make a fortune by taking the boardinghouse apart and selling it bit by bit. Of course, then she wouldn’t have anywhere to live. Besides, she loved the place, despite its drafty windows and problematic plumbing. And so did I.
“Do we need anything else from the store?” There was no answer. I looked over my shoulder and saw Aunt Frances still sitting, her elbows planted on the old oak table, her chin in her hands and her gaze on Eddie.
My cat was sitting in the middle of the spot I’d vacated. He was looking back at Aunt Frances with an intense, yellow-eyed stare. I knew that stare well, and it often meant trouble.
“You know,” my aunt said in a faraway voice, “I think it would be nice to get Eddie his own chair.”
Trouble, my friends, right here in the boardinghouse kitchen.
I went back to the table and gave my feline friend a gentle push, sending him to the floor. Aunt Frances started to protest, but I shook my head. “He got you again,” I said. “Beware of the power of the cat. He was trying to convince you to cater to his every whim, and he would have sucked you in if I hadn’t interfered.”
Aunt Frances laughed and got up from the table. I could tell she didn’t quite believe me. Well, I didn’t quite believe me, either, but what other explanation was there for lying awake in the middle of the night, desperately wanting to straighten your legs but not doing so because straightening them would disturb a
cat’s sleep? I also didn’t believe that Eddie’s brain grasped more than a handful of human words, but there were times when it seemed as if he understood life better than I did.
My aunt, being eight inches taller than I, was a much better candidate for putting away the dishes, so I washed while she dried.
“Did you get a card from Kristen yesterday?” Aunt Frances asked.
I grinned. Indeed, I had. My best friend worked hard in her restaurant from spring through fall, then hightailed it south. The restaurant’s closing date had more to do with the weather forecast than anything else, and she studied the early-snowfall predictions of the
One mid-October morning, she’d tromped into the library and flung herself into my office’s guest chair. “I’m out of here,” she’d announced.
I’d glanced up from my computer. “A little early, isn’t it?” She didn’t usually close the restaurant until the first week of November. Then she drove to Key West, where she tended bar on the weekends and did absolutely nothing during the week. Come spring, after I e-mailed her pictures of melted snow and ice-free lakes, she would return, refreshed and ready for another summer of hard work. It wasn’t a life I would have wanted, but it suited her perfectly. “What’s the rush?” I asked.
She slouched in the chair, sticking her long legs out into the middle of the room. At six foot, with straight blond hair, Kristen was my physical opposite. We were opposites in other ways, too, come to think of it, the most obvious of which was that I wasn’t interested in cooking anything more complicated than canned soup,
while about the only food Kristen didn’t try to improve was an apple. And even then she’d often slice it up, add a touch of lemon juice, and serve it with chunks of a cheese variety I couldn’t pronounce.
“Supposed to snow week after next,” she said. “I’ve talked it over with the staff, and they’re okay with closing down early. It was a good summer, but ‘good’ means ‘a lot of work.’ They’re tired, and I don’t want to push them.”
It wasn’t just her staff that was tired. I studied the droop of her broad shoulders and the fatigue scoring lines into her face.
“What about Scruffy?” I asked.
Last summer, I’d accidentally started a romance between Kristen and Scruffy Gronkowski, a very nice man who was anything but untidy. He was the only person I knew under the age of sixty who took the time to iron creases into his pants, and he was also the producer of a cooking show that was occasionally filmed in Chilson because the host, Trock Farrand, owned a house nearby.
She grinned. “He’s at Trock’s house, trying to figure out how to fit my restaurant into next year’s schedule.”
Jumping to my feet, I flung my arms out and ran to her, shrieking for joy all the way. She laughed and hugged me hard. “Mid-July, he thinks, so it could be a nutso-busy zoo the rest of the summer.”
Kristen’s restaurant was doing well, but having it appear on a national cooking show could zoom it past the marginally profitable zone and into a place where she could think about hiring a manager. Not that she would—she was too hands-on—but there’s a big difference between not wanting to and not being able to.
“And how does Mr. Scruff feel about your Key West destination?” I asked.
She looked at me, all wide-eyed and innocent, a look she hadn’t been able to pull off even when she had been innocent. “Oh, I didn’t tell you? He’s planning to come down for Christmas.”
I whistled. Or tried to. Whistling wasn’t one of my most developed skills. “That sounds serious.”
“Now, don’t go all wedding dress on me,” Kristen said. “My mother’s bad enough. Scruffy just hates the snow.” And that was all she’d say, no matter how sneaky I was about trying to get more information out of her.
The night before she left, we sat in her restaurant’s empty kitchen, eating the last crème brûlée in the place and drinking a bottle of her best champagne.
“Postcards,” she said suddenly.
Since we’d been guessing how long the new downtown gift shop would last—my estimate was less than a year—I blinked at her. “What?”
“Postcards. Key West is full of them.” She topped off our glasses with more bubbly. “I’ll send you a postcard every week.” She smiled, showing her white teeth, and for a moment she bore a striking resemblance to a great white shark.
“A Scruffy report?” I asked. We’d be e-mailing or texting practically every day, but the thought of getting a postcard in my mailbox was appealing.
“Maybe. But only if I get Tucker updates.”
The good-looking, blond, and tall (but not too tall) Dr. Tucker Kleinow and I had been dating since last summer. Though we’d hit a stumbling block when we discovered his allergic reaction to cats in general and Eddie in particular, our relationship was progressing nicely, thanks to Tucker’s willingness to take an allergy medication when he was Eddie-bound. “Deal.” I held up my glass, and we toasted our pact.
Now that I’d received two postcards, I was realizing what had lain beneath her sharklike smile. Postcard number one had been a picture of blue skies and sandy beaches. On the back she’d written
Key West, a steady eighty-one degrees. Chilson, forty-five and dropping. Sucker.
Aunt Frances had stuck it up with a thumbtack on the doorframe to the living room, where, in a few weeks, it would be surrounded by Christmas cards. She was amused by the whole thing and had been wondering if Kristen would keep it up all winter.
Now I nodded toward my backpack, which was sitting on the end of the kitchen counter. “The new one’s in the outside pocket. Go ahead and take it out.”
Postcard number two had been a picture of blue skies and sandy beaches. On the back she’d written
Key West, eighty degrees and sunny. Chilson, snow coming soon. Eww.
But Kristen knew that I didn’t mind winter. I actually liked it. Soft and white, it transformed the world into something completely different, something fresh and clean and unexpected.
I stood there, my hands in the soapy water, daydreaming ahead to skiing and skating and snowshoeing. All sorts of activities that started with the letter
were done on a substance that also started with an
, namely snow, and—
I jumped. “Right,” I said, nodding. “We need to get going, don’t we?”
From his perch on my chair, Eddie looked straight at me. I didn’t need a cat interpreter to know that he was saying,
Aunt Frances returned the last bowl to the glass-front cabinets. “Do you think Eddie would like a half wall? About so high”—she held her hand at waist
level—“and about three feet long. I’ve been thinking about taking out this door between the dining room and the kitchen for some time. It’ll open up the space nicely. Maybe this is the year to do it.”