The Legend of Tabby Hollow (Whales and Tails Mystery Book 5)

 

 

The Legend of Tabby Hollow

 

by

 

Kathi Daley

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Katherine Daley

 

Version 1.0

 

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

I want to thank the very talented Jessica Fischer for the cover art.

I so appreciate Bruce Curran, who is always ready and willing to answer my cyber questions.

I want to thank Taryn Lee, Vivian Shane, Kay Tbee, Joyce Aiken, and Janel Flynn for submitting recipes.

And, of course, thanks to the readers and bloggers in my life, who make doing what I do possible.

 

And finally I want to thank my sister Christy for always lending an ear and my husband Ken for allowing me time to write by taking care of everything else.

Books by Kathi Daley

Come for the murder, stay for the romance.

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Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery:

Halloween Hijinks

The Trouble With Turkeys

Christmas Crazy

Cupid’s Curse

Big Bunny Bump-off

Beach Blanket Barbie

Maui Madness

Derby Divas

Haunted Hamlet

Turkeys, Tuxes, and Tabbies

Christmas Cozy

Alaskan Alliance

Matrimony Meltdown

Soul Surrender

Heavenly Honeymoon

Hopscotch Homicide

Ghostly Graveyard –
October 2015

Santa Sleuth –
December 2015

 

Paradise Lake Cozy Mystery:

Pumpkins in Paradise

Snowmen in Paradise

Bikinis in Paradise

Christmas in Paradise

Puppies in Paradise

Halloween in Paradise

 

Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery:

Romeow and Juliet

The Mad Catter

Grimm’s Furry Tail

Much Ado About Felines

The Legend of Tabby Hollow

Cat of Christmas Past –
November 2015

 

Seacliff High Mystery:

The Secret

The Curse

The Relic

The Conspiracy –
October 2015

 

Road to Christmas Romance:

Road to Christmas Past

Chapter 1
Monday, October 19

 

 

The hollow is a mystical place located in the center of Madrona Island. Given the rocky cliffs that encircle the area, it is protected from the storms that ravage the shoreline. The hollow is uninhabited except for the cats who reside in the dark spaces within the rocks. While most of the island’s residents stop short of referring to the hollow as haunted, it is widely accepted that not everything that happens there can be explained.

I enjoy the pilgrimage I make to the area on a monthly basis. After Aunt Maggie founded Harthaven Cat Sanctuary, I took on the role of guardian to the island’s cats. When visitors first come to our island they’re surprised to see such a large feral cat population. Most assume the immigrants who settled the island four generations ago brought the cats, but the truth of the matter is that the cats of Madrona Island were here before the founding families arrived.

No one knows for certain how the cats came to be on the island, but local legend tells of a man named Ivan Valtranova. Ivan was a merchant from Russia who supposedly found the island when he was blown off course during a storm. He took refuge in the hollow with the twelve cats with whom he traveled. If folklore is to be believed, he fell in love with the beauty and isolation of the island and decided to stay after the storm had passed. Most assume the cats Ivan brought with him served as the base from which the current cat population was bred.

According to the story, Ivan lived alone on the island for a number of years, until the founding families arrived and built the fishing village of Harthaven. It is said that one of the settlers killed the Russian over a land dispute. Although the account of his demise has most likely been sensationalized, it seems that after a hard-fought battle to retain his isolation, he was beheaded and his headless body was left in the hollow. The legend tells us that the head was never found and is in fact buried within the hollow. There are those who believe Ivan’s spirit is trapped in the hollow and that he still wanders the area, looking for his head and exacting his revenge on those who would disturb his solitude.

Personally, I hope the legend isn’t true. I don’t want to believe that one or more of the founding fathers killed the man in cold blood in order to steal the land he claimed. And, although I come to the hollow on a regular basis, I’ve never been bothered by Ivan or any other spirit. But most legends are based at least in part on reality, and anyone who has been around for any length of time will tell you that there have been a number of strange and unexplained deaths in the area over the years.

Whatever their origin, the cats of Madrona Island are considered to be part of its charm. They were allowed to wander freely until Mayor Bradley lost several of his prize koi to the cats, motivating him to pass a law making it legal to remove the feral animals from ones’ property by any means necessary. When Aunt Maggie realized the cats were in danger of being trapped and killed, she founded the sanctuary as a refuge for the beautiful and graceful animals.

Today, I chose to abandon any thoughts of death or vengeance from beyond the grave and concentrate on the beauty surrounding me. One of the things I like best about the hollow is the whispers in the air. Most believe the sound is created as the wind echoes through the canyon, but I believe the whispers are the cats, heralding my arrival.

I took my time as I walked along the narrow footpath, looking for signs of felines in distress. More often than not I leave the cats to their own devices, but occasionally I come across a tabby who is sick or injured. When this occurs I trap it and take it back to the sanctuary, where it can receive medical attention. Occasionally, I’ll come across a cat who seems ripe for domestication, but most of the time I return the healed cats to the place in which I found them.

Today, I’ve come to the hollow for a very specific purpose. Today, I’ve been sent to find a messenger. Tansy hadn’t given me a lot of information about him, other than that he would meet me in the hollow and lead me to that which was mine to find.

Tansy and her best friend, Bella, are rumored to be witches. Neither Tansy nor Bella will confirm or deny their witchy status, but both women know things that can’t be empirically explained. Bella and Tansy live in the touristy village of Pelican Bay, which is located on the southern end of the island. The women own and operate Herbalities, a specialty shop dealing in herbs and fortune telling. While both Bella and Tansy seem to be more in tune with the natural rhythms of the universe than most, it’s Tansy who demonstrates a level of intuition that’s downright disturbing.

While venturing into the hollow to meet a feline messenger may seem like an odd thing to do, Tansy and her cats had never misled me in the past. I don’t really understand why I’ve been tasked with the responsibility, but I know deep in my soul that working with the cats is my calling and destiny.

“Ichabod?” I asked the large black cat with glowing green eyes and pointy ears who had wandered onto the path in front of me.

The cat didn’t answer, but somehow I knew I’d found my messenger.

“Tansy said to follow you, so here I am,” I said aloud. “Lead the way.”

The cat looked me up and down before he turned and started up the rocky trail that didn’t appear to lead anywhere. The trail was steep and covered in shale, creating a difficult and dangerous passage. I run with my dog Max almost every day, so I’m well equipped for a laborious hike, but the sun had already begun its descent and I was concerned that the darkness would arrive before I was able to make my way back down the trail and out of the hollow. Still, over time I’ve learned to trust the felines Tansy sends my way, so I dutifully followed in spite of the risk.

The trail narrowed as it wound steeply up the mountain. My legs burned as I struggled to keep my footing on the unstable ground. The trip back down the path wasn’t going to be fun at all.

Once I arrived at the summit, I paused to catch my breath and admire the view. The setting sun glistened off the still water of the ocean as seabirds glided above the surface, looking for their evening meal. It was too bad I hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight. I imagined that sitting atop the rocky bluff as the sun set with only the cats for company would be a magical experience.

Apparently, Ichabod wasn’t the patient sort because after only a minute’s rest, he began meowing at me to continue the journey. I figured we must be coming to the end of the journey because since it wouldn’t be long before we would run out of trail. I turned away from the spectacular view and continued to follow the cat. He led me inland just a bit and then back toward the sea.

I’m not entirely certain why no one has ever developed this part of the island. I imagine it could be due to the rough terrain, although, while the current trail system is perilous at best, it wouldn’t be all that hard to run a road into the interior of the unpopulated space. There’s a rough dirt road that runs along the perimeter of the hollow. Most use it to access the area before continuing on foot.

I supposed the legend could also play into the equation. Most islanders won’t admit to believing in the power of Ivan’s ghost, yet few seem willing to put the legend to the test.

Ichabod stopped and sat down at the point where the trail met the edge of the cliff. I wasn’t a huge fan of heights, but I walked up beside him and looked over the threshold. Lying at the bottom of the bluff was the body of Mayor Bradley. At least I thought it was Mayor Bradley. It was hard to know for certain because the face of the victim gave evidence to the fact that scavengers live in the area. But the body was dressed in the same suit I’d seen Mayor Bradley wear on many occasions.

Chapter 2
Wednesday, October 21

 

 

“A soy latte and a cranberry nut muffin for Jan,” I called out after my best friend and business partner Tara O’Brian set the order on the counter.

“Is Hank here today?” Jan asked as she paid for her order.

“He is. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”

“I wish I could adopt him, but until I can find a rental that allows cats I’m afraid the best I can do is visit.”

“It’s hard when you’re first getting started. Most rentals in the area don’t allow pets. I’m sure Hank would love to find a forever home, but in the meantime I know he enjoys spending time with you.”

“I keep thinking that if I could save enough money I could afford to rent a house. Most of my friends who are in houses are allowed pets; it’s the apartment owners who seem to be picky about animals on the premises.”

“Maybe a roommate?” I suggested. “A two-bedroom house wouldn’t be much more expensive to rent than a one bedroom, but you’d only have half the expense.”

“That’s a good idea. I might ask around to see if any of my friends are interested. This is usually a good time of year to find a rental, now that the summer crowds are gone.”

“I’ll keep an eye out and let you know if I hear of anything,” I promised.

I watched as Jan walked toward the cat lounge. Coffee Cat Books is a unique venture Tara and I own and operate. It combines a bookstore with a coffee bar and a cat lounge, where customers can choose to visit with the cats I bring from Harthaven Cat Sanctuary each day. The idea is that the visitors will fall in love with the cats while sipping a latte and sampling the newest best seller. In most cases that’s exactly what happens and the cats are adopted into forever homes.

“The lady over by the new arrivals has some questions,” our new employee, Destiny Paulson, informed Tara and me. “I can cover here if one of you wants to go talk to her.”

“I’ll go,” Tara offered. “The crowd from the ferry has pretty much cleared out, so things should slow down until the next boat docks.”

“Do you have class today?” I asked. Destiny was being homeschooled by Sister Mary of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church so she wouldn’t fall behind during her pregnancy.

“Later,” Destiny answered. “Sister Mary is busy this week because she’s covering for Father Kilian, who’s on vacation until Sunday.”

“That should work out fine. We can head over early and grab dinner at Antonio’s. I just need to pop in and talk to Finn first.”

Ryan Finnegan—Finn to his friends—is the resident deputy for Madrona Island.

“Did he ever figure out how Mayor Bradley ended up in the hollow?” Destiny wondered.

“No. At this point it seems equally possible that he tripped and fell, committed suicide, or was pushed. Finn didn’t find any evidence that another person was involved, but he really has no way to rule that out either.”

“But why the hollow?” Destiny asked. “Mayor Bradley hated the cats and he didn’t seem the type to enjoy strenuous hiking. It doesn’t make sense that he’d be there in the first place.”

“I’ve been wondering the same thing,” I confided.

“Did you ever find the cat?” Destiny asked.

“No. Not yet.”

After I found Mayor Bradley’s body I immediately looked around for a place where I could get cell reception so I could call Finn. Ichabod had slipped away while I was looking, and I couldn’t find him after Finn arrived. I sensed that our time together wasn’t yet over, so I’d returned to the hollow twice looking for him, so far with no luck.

“Chances are if he’s meant to help you he’ll come to you,” Destiny pointed out. “Based on what Tara has told me, the other cats found you rather than the other way around.”

“You have a point. I just wish I knew if my role in this whole thing is complete or if I’m supposed to be doing something more.”

“Like what?” Destiny asked.

“I really don’t know. If we knew for certain that Mayor Bradley had been pushed, I would say that my role might be to help Finn find the killer. But if he simply slipped and fell, or if he intentionally committed suicide, there’s really nothing to investigate.”

“It seems a little unlikely that Mayor Bradley would choose to surround himself with cats if he planned to intentionally end his life,” Destiny said.

“That’s true. I guess we can assume he either slipped or was pushed.”

“He had to have had a really good reason to be in the hollow in the first place,” Destiny reasoned. “I bet he was either looking for something or meeting someone.”

“That makes sense.”

“If you feel like you want to do something to help Finn you should see if you can figure out why the mayor was on the top of that cliff in the first place.”

I smiled. “How’d you get to be so smart?”

“I’ve always been smart. I just happened to make some bad decisions along the way and now I’m single and pregnant.”

Poor Destiny really had gotten herself into a complicated situation, but she seemed to be handling it okay these days, considering. When Destiny told her mother she was pregnant she’d been understandably upset, which had led to conflict between mother and daughter to the point that Destiny had decided to run away. Luckily, I’d seen her waiting for the ferry and had been able to convince her to stay.

“By the way, did you meet with the woman at the adoption agency?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And?”

Destiny shrugged. “I don’t know. All I agreed to do was talk with her, which I did. I’m still not sure I want to give my baby away. It feels like such an important decision and I feel like I’m being pressured to make a commitment one way or the other before I’ve really had a chance to consider all my options.”

“I suppose everyone feels it would be better if you made a decision before the baby is born.”

“Yeah. I guess I can see that.” Destiny sighed. “I know that raising a baby on my own will be hard, but I’ll be seventeen next month and I’m sure Sister Mary would help me get a GED if I don’t graduate. Tara said I can stay with her as long as I want, even after the baby’s born. I don’t know if keeping the baby is the right decision, but I want to at least think things through.”

I gave Destiny’s arm a squeeze. “I don’t blame you. It’s a big decision, one that you’ll need to live with for the rest of your life. I think you should take your time.”

“Thanks, Cait. You and Tara have been great. I just wish my mom would be a bit more open-minded. She’s determined to have me give my baby away.”

“Your mom knows what it’s like to have to raise kids on your own. I’m willing to bet she just wants to protect you from having such a difficult life.”

“Maybe, but I’m not sure that giving away my baby will guarantee that my life will be easy.”

“True.”

I turned toward the window as the midday ferry made its way into the harbor and began lining up to dock. The crowds had decreased considerably during the week now that school was back in session and the temperatures had cooled, but we did seem to be enjoying steady business the five days a week we decided to be open during the winter. I know there are those who think a coffee bar and bookstore should be open seven days a week, but Tara and I were doing well enough to cover our costs while cutting back to Tuesday through Saturday hours during the off season. I turned away from the window and began gathering the supplies I’d need for customers looking for a midday coffee.

One of the things I love the most about the venture Tara and I run is that I get to spend my day surrounded by books. Ironically enough, I’d had little time to read since we opened the store, but the glossy covers that stared back at me from artfully decorated bookshelves feel like old friends lying in wait for a stormy day and a much-longed-for visit.

“Isn’t that your sister?” Destiny asked.

I turned back to the window. “It is. I wonder what she’s doing here.”

“Maybe she wanted to come for a visit. It’s beautiful on the island this time of year. I hear leaf season is supposed to be at its absolute peak this weekend.”

I frowned. Siobhan didn’t care about leaves and she rarely came for a visit. If she was here something was most likely wrong. “Cover for me. I’ll be right back.”

I took off my Coffee Cat Books apron, then informed Tara that Siobhan was here and I was going to take a short break. I headed out the door and jogged over to where my sister was talking to one of the other passengers who had just gotten off the ferry. Siobhan is the second oldest Hart sibling, right after my brother Aiden. She lived in Seattle and I hadn’t seen her in months. I try to get her to visit more often, but she’d be the first to tell you that she doesn’t have the time to make the trip due to her many professional and social commitments. Personally, I think her avoidance of the island has more to do with the fact that she doesn’t get along with my mother than it does with her busy schedule.

Siobhan is three years older than me. When we were growing up she was a good sister who looked out for me. We were actually fairly close because I was the only other girl until my sister Cassie was born when I was ten. I idolized Siobhan. She was the person I aspired to be.

I’d been crushed when Siobhan quite unexpectedly decided to accept a job in Seattle despite the fact that she was engaged to marry Finn. The two of them had dated all through high school, so he was around the house a lot of the time, and I thought of him as some sort of additional big brother. I’d really been looking forward to him becoming part of the family and was devastated when I found out he never would be.

“What are you doing here?” I hugged my sister and, surprisingly, she hugged me back. Siobhan wasn’t the demonstrative type; usually the most you could expect from her was a halfhearted pat on the back.

“I just decided it was time for a visit.”

I was sure Siobhan wasn’t telling me everything, but I didn’t push.

“Are you staying at Mom’s?” I wondered.

“Actually, I was hoping to stay with Maggie. I called earlier and left a message, but she hasn’t called me back.”

“Maggie is away on a yoga retreat. They don’t allow phones there, so I doubt she even got your message. I’m sure she won’t mind if you want to crash in one of her guest rooms, though.” I hugged Siobhan again. “I’m so excited you’re here.”

“Is that your new store?” Siobhan nodded toward Coffee Cat Books.

I nodded and took Siobhan’s hand. “Come on. I want to show it to you.”

I picked up Siobhan’s suitcase while she positioned her purse and her computer bag over her shoulder. Although Siobhan and I haven’t been superclose since she moved away, I’ve really missed her. Tara and Destiny greeted her, and then I showed her around the store.

“So what do you think?” I asked after giving her the grand tour.

“It’s nice.”

“Nice?”

Siobhan sighed. “It’s great. Really. I’m just tired. Do you think you could give me a ride over to Maggie’s?”

“Sure.” I have to admit I was disappointed Siobhan wasn’t more excited about the store Tara and I had poured our heart and soul into. Not that I expected her to be over-the-top complimentary. Ever since she’d moved away it seemed as if Siobhan tended to spend most of her time thinking about Siobhan and didn’t seem all that interested in anyone or anything else.

I explained what I was doing to Tara, then led Siobhan to my clunker of a car and headed toward the peninsula, where Maggie and I live. “So how long can you stay?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“It’s nice you were able to take time off from your job. It seems like it’s been forever since I’ve seen you.”

Siobhan smiled a little half smile but didn’t respond.

“I’ve really missed you.”

Siobhan continued to look out the side window of the car, as she’d been doing since we left the bookstore.

“Are you still dating that musician?” I asked, hoping to hit on a topic she might be interested in discussing.

“No. We broke up. How long is Maggie going to be away?”

“Through the weekend. If you get bored staying alone at Maggie’s you can crash at my place, or I’m sure Mom would love to see you.”

“Maggie’s will be fine.”

I could tell there was something Siobhan wasn’t telling me, but I decided not to ask about it. Over the years I’d learned to tread lightly with my big sister. Siobhan was an independent sort who didn’t take kindly to anyone meddling in her business.

“Did you hear that Mayor Bradley died?” I asked, changing the topic to something a little less personal.

Siobhan turned and looked at me. “No. What happened?”

I explained about finding him at the bottom of the cliff in the hollow.

“That is so weird. Bradley hated cats. Why would he even be in the hollow?”

“That’s the question everyone is asking. I have choir practice tonight, but I thought I’d stop off to talk to Finn on the way. He might have an update on the situation.”

Siobhan turned back to the window, but not before I saw an odd expression cross her face. “How is Finn?”

I frowned. It was uncharacteristic of Siobhan to ask about him, and even more unlike her to care how he was doing.

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