Pawsitively Dead (A Wonder Cats Mystery Book 2) (2 page)

BOOK: Pawsitively Dead (A Wonder Cats Mystery Book 2)
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An Empty Casket

B
lake and Jake
arrived on the scene, and they had listened, bringing backup with them, along with the medical examiner. I met Detectives Blake Samberg, Jake Williams, and Marlene Strauss, the medical examiner, at the entrance and told them why I’d come there. Police Chief Talbot led the others to the area where I’d found the second body.

Blake patted an anxious Treacle as I described how I had seen Samantha’s bright hair.

Jake asked, “And you haven’t moved the body?”

“No,” I said. “Didn’t even touch it.”

Blake asked, “And you didn’t notice anything else unusual?”

“You mean, aside from the skeleton?” I asked.

“Did you see any other evidence?”

I looked around. What they saw was what I did. Then I understood the intention behind his question and glowered at him.

“Well,” Blake said, “you do steal evidence. You’ve done that.”

“That was one time!” I said. “And what’s important is that I didn’t do anything like that this time. Cut me some slack, Samberg.”

Jake interrupted with, “Blake, let’s focus on the examination.”

I watched Marlene examine Samantha’s corpse until I felt queasy and had to turn away.

“Hmm,” Marlene said, “all of this bruising is post-mortem. All of it.”

I looked back, horrified, at the mottled gray and blue bruises on Samantha’s arms, legs, and stomach. “I don’t get it. Who would bruise her after she died?
How
did she die?”

I turned toward Jake and saw that the blood had drained from his face. Until recently, Bea’s husband, Jake, didn’t know our secret. He found out when he took on the case regarding Ted’s death at the Brew-Ha-Ha.

Marlene looked up. “We’ll need a more detailed autopsy. Cause of death might have been something like poison, but from what I can see so far, it wasn’t physical trauma.”

“Look at this—” Blake noted a strap of leather in Samantha’s hand, frayed at the edge as if it had snapped. It was part of a dog’s leash.

“Oh, poor thing,” I whispered. At Blake’s quizzical expression, I explained, “On the way here, over at the bridge, I saw this giant St. Bernard with a broken bit of leash on the collar…”

At that moment, Diane Davis, the newest member of the Wonder Falls police force, walked over. “We’ve found an open grave that the other body might have belonged to.”

The three of us followed Diane to a crater in the ground, or more like a narrow tunnel. The tunnel’s mouth was irregularly shaped and surrounded by loam and chunks of what might have been the grave marker.

Diane reported, “Boone took a look at the other body. Some parts were over fifty years old.”

“Only some parts?” I asked.

Diane nodded. “A body that old shouldn’t still have decomposing gristle on it.”

“That’s strange.” Blake pointed at the grave. “And that’s strange. If I were digging up a corpse, I would shovel the dirt out of the way. From how the earth is scattered evenly around it, the grave looks like it was broken from below.”

I spared a glance at Jake, who, if possible, turned even paler.

“Maybe an explosive,” Blake guessed. “Buried and remote-controlled. We ought to check for shrapnel in the ground. Once the coffin top was broken, a grave-robber only needed to fish for it, lift the bones out, without disturbing the earth… no fingerprints on the casket…”

Jake might know our secret now, but he didn’t like to talk about it. Maybe it was his way of pretending that none of it was real. But as I watched him grow paler and paler, I could only guess that he had concluded that the skeleton had come alive with some dark magic and clawed its way out of the grave.

“I think I’ll go pack up my blanket now.” With another glance at Jake, I added, “I’ll be with Astrid and Bea at the Brew-Ha-Ha.”

“Good,” Jake said faintly.

“When’s it opening again?” Diane asked. “Coffee and sodas just fail as a pick-me-up compared to Astrid’s herbal mixes.”

“Renovations are almost done,” I said.

But with these new revelations, the renovations might just have to wait a little longer.

Resurrection Spell

A
unt Astrid spotted
me coming into the Brew-Ha-Ha. “Cath! You’re back!”

“And you’re early,” Bea added. She craned her neck over the mezzanine railing and noticed the other guest. “Hello there, Treacle!”

“I
am
early.” I sighed. “I found something awful at the graveyard.”

Aunt Astrid set the paintbrushes to soak in their cleansers and sealed the tin buckets of varnish. She led Bea and me down the trapdoor behind the bar and into her nuclear bunker.

The last time I’d been in here, it had just been a dusty room with cement walls and a single flashlight. Now, it had been wallpapered and furnished with a low oval table and beanbag chairs, and she’d added some decent lights in paper-and-wire lampshades to make it seem more like a cozy secret place than a panic room. The trapdoor had been edged in something rubbery that made it difficult to close behind me.

“That’s for soundproofing,” Aunt Astrid said proudly when she saw me struggle with the door.

“Nice,” I said.

“I stocked the mini-fridge,” Bea said on her way down the stairs. “Everything here is being powered by the solar panels we put on the roof, but we also have a gas generator, although we should remember to change that every so often. Gasoline expires fast. Oh, and I opted for tatami over carpeting because of the way most carpeting catches mold spores and dust, but I did get a carpet-covered scratching post!”

Treacle made for the corner where the scratching post was and began to claw at it while the three of us settled down. I caught them up on what had happened.

Bea’s first reaction was to shake her head sadly. “Poor Samantha!”

“Does she deserve so much of our pity though?” Aunt Astrid wondered.

“Mom!” Bea exclaimed, shocked. “Empathy isn’t something that another human being has to deserve, especially when they’ve died.”

“You’re entitled to pity that she’s dead,” Aunt Astrid reassured her. “What I’m wondering is if she brought it on herself. We’ve had to deal with people trying to use magic for their own selfish reasons before, and we rescued them from taking on more than they could handle. Such arrogance can hurt and kill others in the process.”

“It sounds to me like a resurrection spell gone wrong,” Bea said. “But what if Samantha wasn’t looking to be queen of the zombie armies?”

“You might be right,” I said. “Samantha could have been the human sacrifice needed to resurrect another person.”

“Even if Samantha Perry did it herself, with good intentions or ill intentions at heart,” Aunt Astrid said, “we should find out
how
that much was accomplished and
why
it didn’t work.”

Bea nodded and asked me, “Who was it that came back to life? Maybe there’s some connection between them.”

“I don’t know. The headstone was shattered. We’d better just let the officers investigate for now. If they find any evidence of a third person there, or put the headstone back together or something, you would know. Jake would tell you about it first, Bea.”

Bea gave a sad laugh. “Oh, I don’t know about that. Jake never wants to talk about magic with me.”

“Poor man,” Aunt Astrid said soothingly. “After last time, I’m sure it’s just shock. Don’t worry, Bea. He’ll talk because he needs us to know.”

“And we need him,” I added.

Bea nodded again. “If or when it gets unbearable to pretend that Jake and I are normal and happy, like we used to be, well… can I please stay at either of your places?”

“In a heartbeat,” I told her.

“As if you have to ask!” Aunt Astrid exclaimed.

I was convinced it would never come to that. At least, I really hoped it wouldn’t. We hugged it all out and went back to varnishing the mezzanine, this time with my help. Min had had to leave to help his family at their store.

Treacle also went off, wandering into town. I’d long since learned that there was no stopping him at the best of times.

Shelley Marina

I
mulled
over possibilities the whole day. When I got back home that evening, I took too long in the shower and came out to find that I’d missed over a dozen calls on my cell phone from Blake. Or Detective Samberg, as I should really be calling him. We were friends, sort of, except when I hated him.

I called him back. “What’s so—”

He interrupted. “Shelley Marina, 1878 to 1958. Do you know her?”

I scrambled to understand who he meant. “That was the name and date on the tombstone that got blown up?”

“Yes. We put the pieces together. Only literally.”

“How could—”

“We still have metaphorical pieces. The case is still unsolved.”

“I think I got that, Blake. I don’t know her. She died before I was born.”

“Could you find out anything about her?”

I hoped so. I wouldn’t let on that I was investigating though. “No offense, Blake, but that’s your job and not mine.”

He paused. “Have I said or done something recently to make you angry?”

Angry wasn’t the word. “Look, I just came across something really awful today and…”

“Oh, really? What was it?”

Was the man being sarcastic or utterly clueless?

My expression couldn’t show over the phone, but I was sure it conveyed equal parts confusion, outrage, and self-disdain. Why was I surprised? I should really have known Blake better by now. Although I really shouldn’t call him that. He was Detective Samberg. And the things he said were just Detective Samberg being Detective Samberg.

I hung up. The man was so incapable of human empathy that it wasn’t even funny.

B
ea laughed
when I told her about my conversation with Blake the next morning. Seeing that I wasn’t pleased, she covered her mouth with her hand to stifle the laughter.

“I think he’s socially autistic,” I said.

“Let’s be more quiet,” she whispered. “Aunt Astrid’s in the bunker, doing her thing to find, you know, tangents.” We were in the restaurant area of the Brew-Ha-Ha.

Tangent
was the word Bea and I had made up to refer to people who might be witches and not know it. Tangents could see into the other world and usually thought that they were hallucinating or, if they were old, getting senile. Tangents could even make things happen with magic, only they wouldn’t know about the facts and history behind their magic because they wouldn’t know that they were part of a lineage of witches and wizards.

“I thought the bunker was soundproof,” I said. “Why do we have to be quiet?”

Bea shrugged and sifted through one of Aunt Astrid’s dozens of notebooks on the floor, the contents handwritten. “We still don’t want to be too loud and disturb whatever we might disturb.”

Min whispered as he edged between us. “What’s disturbing?”

I jumped and yelped in surprise.

“What?” Min asked. “It’s just me! You never used to be so jumpy.”

I almost answered that I wasn’t so careful about my family’s secret when we were teenagers. I’d still taken care, of course, because I knew it was important. Now that I was older, I knew just how much was at stake if our secret ever got out.

So instead, I answered, “Yesterday gave me a bad turn.”

“Oh, yeah.” Min flinched. “I heard about Samantha. When did this town get so dangerous?”

I thought that it was a crime, not a natural disaster, so it wasn’t a matter of when. Somebody had made my town dangerous, and I was going to track them down. That was probably the attitude that Blake expected me to take the night before.

Bea explained to me, “Min thought that he’d help a little more today with the renovations, but Mom’s got it in her head that she dreamed of Samantha Perry’s death before, and if she could only remember the details, then the police could track down the culprit. I told Min that she’s meditating right now.”

The town knew Aunt Astrid as a fortune teller. It was strange. Humans believed in magical abilities up to a certain point. After that point, they found it entirely inconceivable and terrifying.

Aunt Astrid had a better memory of her visions of the future if they came to her when she was awake. She only wrote down the dreams that felt like they could come true, but she always forgot the dreams after writing them down.

“I’d help with going through the notebooks, but I can’t read your aunt’s handwriting,” Min said.

“Neither can I,” I lied, squinting at the pages. “And this is still Aunt Astrid’s café, so she gets to direct how everything gets rebuilt. It’s better to wait for her to get convinced that she’s done all she could do.” I shrugged. “Sorry, Min, I guess there’s not much to do here after all.”

“I could still hang around,” Min said hopefully. “I don’t really have any other friends in Wonder Falls, and I remember what you said, Cath, about nobody really wanting a white knight entrepreneur.”

Bea and I exchanged glances. I liked having Min around, but he couldn’t learn the Greenstone secret. It was hard enough for Bea and Jake, and they were already married.

“Actually,” Bea said, getting up and moving over to the bar, where she’d left her bag. “It depends on the industry you’re in. My friend, Naomi LaChance, manages this theater troupe—”

“The Curtains?” I asked.

Bea took a business card out of her purse pocket. “Here it is! Of course, The Curtains, Cath. Naomi doesn’t run any other troupe for the local community theater.”

“But they’re terrible!” I exclaimed.

Bea pouted at me. “They do their best.”

“They staged
Norma
for their autumn show last year,” I said to Min. “I think only two people had had voice lessons and none for opera. Nobody in the audience understood Italian. I don’t think that even was Italian—” I did want to keep the family secret, but sending him off to invest in a void of talent would be too harsh.

Min took that all in and came to entirely the wrong conclusion. His face broke into a smile. “It sounds like they need a lot of help!” He took the card from Bea.

I acknowledged, “They wouldn’t turn down a patron, but it really shows that they’ve got contradictory artistic visions. Everybody has huge egos—”

“I can manage egos,” Min said confidently.

“Naomi LaChance would be overseeing rehearsals right now,” Bea said to him, pointing. “At the address on the card.”

“Thanks!”

Nobody was listening to my warnings. Granted, I didn’t even know what the Curtains would be up to this year. I hope it wouldn’t be nearly as terrible.

“I’ll be back soon,” Min said.

Bea sighed. “Oh, take your time. This”—she waved at Aunt Astrid’s dream diaries—“will definitely take a lot of ours.”

Just as suddenly as he’d sidled up to us, Min was gone.

Bea and I sat on the floor around the notebooks and continued to sift through the text until the trapdoor behind the bar creaked open. Three cats came out. The first was Peanut Butter, Bea’s dun-coated shorthair Abyssinian. Peanut Butter was usually high-strung and nervous. This time he was high-strung and excited. He rubbed against Bea and
miaowed
as she patted his head.

“Is that so?” I said aloud, catching Peanut Butter’s meaning behind the
miaow
. “No luck?”

“Oh yes,” Aunt Astrid said as she emerged from the bunker and shut the trapdoor behind her. “We’ve eliminated a lot of possibilities, but…”

“But no tangents then,” Bea summed up as she stood and dusted herself off.

Aunt Astrid shook her head sadly. “Not a one.”

“It’s about time these kittens learn their magic,”
came another thought from Aunt Astrid’s cat, a longhaired white Maine Coon named Marshmallow. Marshmallow had been born looking like a grouchy grandmother, and at nine human years of age, she was finally beginning to act like one. “
But it wasn’t a total waste.”

Aunt Astrid continued, “They would have Familiars in the other world, waiting to help train them.”

I nodded.

“There are rules that tangents must follow,” Aunt Astrid continued. “Firm rules. Even if they don’t know them.”

“I had no idea that the other world was so political,” I said. “I thought that it was just strange and weird all the time.”

“When it matters,” Aunt Astrid said, “the Maid of the Mist can be very clear about what is allowed and what is not.”

Peanut Butter sniffed at Aunt Astrid’s notebooks and purred.

“He’s worried about you and Jake,” I translated. “Wow, Bea, how bad is it?”

“I don’t know,” Bea admitted. “Jake won’t talk about it. He just said that he’ll do what he can, and he trusts the Greenstones to do what we can.”

Aunt Astrid gave Bea a comforting pat on the shoulder. “That sounds like a healthy boundary. Everyone needs that; we just forget it in a marriage.”

“Boundaries? No, he’s completely shut me out! Even Blake Samberg wants to talk more about the case to Cath.”

I had a thought. “Shelley Marina was the resurrected. I don’t suppose we could do a séance or something to ask her about why she came back to life?”

“That’s not a talent that any of us have,” Bea pointed out. That didn’t make it impossible, but that would make it difficult. We risked burning out on magical energy if we did something too far outside of our talents.

Aunt Astrid added, “If we relied on a ritual, the biggest help would be a waxing moon—and the moon was full last night.”

Silence hung in the air as we processed that.

“If…” I began. “If whoever did this wants to try this resurrection spell again, and isn’t even a natural witch or wizard, would they need the full moon again?”

Aunt Astrid considered that. “I’m not sure. Magic is more of an art than a science. Whoever’s done this might have discovered a different way to do it than our way because, of course, we keep our ways secret.”

“But I studied other ways to heal,” Bea said. “There are all sorts of different ways to do spells for the same outcome. The moon really affects certain spells we do. I think it’s likely it would be a factor in someone else’s spells too.”

“So we wait.” I groaned in defeat and leaned back until I was lying on the floor. Treacle climbed up on my stomach and lay on it as if he were an Egyptian sphinx.

BOOK: Pawsitively Dead (A Wonder Cats Mystery Book 2)
10.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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