Authors: Sofie Kelly
Two Tall Tails
Sofie Kelly & Sofie Ryan
Published by Berkley
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
Copyright Â© 2016 by Sofie Kelly
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First Edition: September 2016
Cover design by Sandra Chiu
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.
A Magical Cats Story
In the uncanny sort of timing I've discovered Minnesota rain sometimes has, the sky seemed to open just as I started across Rebecca's backyard toward my own. I pulled up the hood of my yellow slicker, folded both arms over the front of the raincoat and ran for my back door, my happy faceâcovered rubber boots clomping across the wet grass and sending water spraying up onto my jeans. It seemed as though all the rain we hadn't gotten in April we were now going to get in May.
Inside the porch I shook myself a bit like a damp dog, then eased down the zipper of my jacket. Hercules poked his black and white face out from underneath and looked at me, green eyes narrowed, a sour expression on his face.
I set him down on the porch floor and the little tuxedo cat held up one white-tipped front paw and shook it, followed by the other.
I slipped off my jacket and hung it to drip on a hook by the back door. “There's no way your feet are wet,” I said, stepping out of my boots. “In case you didn't notice,
feet didn't actually touch the grass.”
Hercules turned his back on me and started for the kitchen, making disgruntled grumbling noises in the back of his throat. The fact that the door was closed made no difference to him. He simply walked through it. The bottom panel almost seemed to shimmer for a moment and then the cat was on the other side with no more than the same soft sound a soap bubble makes when it pops.
The first time I'd seen Hercules walk through a completely solid door, I'd thought I was losing my mind. Now it was just part of his personality, like his intense aversion to wet feet, his indifference to catnip and his love for both sardine cat crackers and Barry Manilow's music.
I had no idea where this unbelievable ability had come fromâHerc's gray tabby brother, Owen, couldn't walk through walls. Owen's superpower was the ability to disappear at will, and since he was a cat, it was almost always at the most inconvenient time for me. From the beginning I'd realized that if I told anyone about the cats' “skills,” at best it would be my head getting examined and, at worst, theirs, so I kept their secret. A few times I'd had to come up with an explanation of how Hercules had gotten into a room or Owen onto the front seat of my truck, but since cats have a reputation for slightly sneaky behavior, it was pretty easy to cover.
I followed Hercules into the kitchen. He was sitting on the floor, staring at the cupboard where I kept the sardine crackers.
“Nice, try,” I said, bending down to scratch the top of his head. “But A, I know you already had bacon with Everett, and B, you didn't get wet.” I leaned my face close to his as I said the last part and he licked my chin. “You're welcome,” I said.
Rebecca Nixon, now Rebecca Henderson, had been my backyard neighbor as long as I'd lived in this house, one of the perks that came with taking the job as head librarian here in Mayville Heights. After she and Everett had gotten married, they decided to live in Rebecca's little house and soon Hercules was having breakfast with Everett a couple of times a week. Everett insisted Hercules was interested in what happened on the town council, and for all I knew, maybe the little cat was.
My cell phone rang then. I straightened up and grabbed it from the kitchen table. It was Maggie. “Hey Mags,” I said.
Maggie Adams was one of my closest friends in Mayville Heights. We'd met when Rebecca invited me to try her tai chi class. Maggie was the instructor. We'd bonded over our love for the cheesy reality show
“Hi,” Maggie said. “I was wondering what your day's like. Do you have time for lunch? I made pizza last night.”
I loved Maggie's homemade pizza with its chewy crust and thick, spicy tomato sauce.
“I always have time for your pizza.” I leaned back against the counter. At my feet Hercules was making a show of washing his left front paw. “What time?”
“How about twelve thirty?” Maggie gave a little grunt of exertion that told me she was probably stretching at the end of her morning workout. “I'll be over at the studio.”
“I'll see you then,” I said. Owen had appeared in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. He gave a loud meow. Owen adored Maggie. “Owen sends his love,” I added.
“Back at him,” Maggie said. I could hear her smile in her voice. “I'll see you later.”
I ended the call, set the phone back on the table and walked over to Owen. The little gray tabby looked up at me with his odd, golden eyes. I reached down to stroke his fur. “Love from Maggie,” I said. His eyes narrowed to slits and he began to purr.
Owen followed me around while I finished getting ready for work. He made a face when I got my blue sweater from the closet.
“The red one?' I asked.
“Mrrr,” he said approvingly.
When I was ready to leave, I gave each cat a stack of five sardine crackers and some fresh water. Owen eyed his pile with suspicion the way he always did, then nudged the top cracker to the floor and sniffed it carefully.
Hercules was already eating his treat, crunching happily. He looked at me, almost seeming to smile. I crouched down beside him. “You're spoiled,” I said. “Your character has been weakened.”
He tipped his head and blinked his green eyes at me, almost as if he were saying,
And whose fault is that?
I rubbed the top of his nose, where white fur gave way to the black on the top of his head. “Have a good day,” I said.
I stood up, grabbed my bag and my umbrella and headed for the porch. “Have a good day, Owen,” I said over my shoulder.
He gave a muffled murp around a mouthful of cracker which may have been “You too,” or might have been “Whatever.”
It was barely raining at lunchtime when I got to the Riverarts building, where Maggie had her art studio, but the sky was still dark out over the water. For me, one of the best parts of living in Mayville Heights was the riverfront with the elm and black walnut trees that lined the shore, and the trail that wound its way past the downtown businesses, all the way out to the marina. You could walk along the shoreline and see the boats and barges go by on the water the way they had more than a hundred years ago.
I parked on a side street a block above the art center and hurried down the hill, clutching a container with four cinnamon rolls close to my chest in case it started to pour again. The town was basically laid out like a grid. For the most part, the streets that ran up and down the hill carried on all the way to Wild Rose Bluff at the top. The bluff was the source of most of the stone in the foundations of the beautiful old buildings along the waterfront.
Mags was waiting by the back door of the old high school. “Hi,” she said.
I knew right away something was off. The smile she gave me seemed just a little forced. The long blue ombrÃ© scarf around her neck was lopsided, one end hanging much lower than the other. And her short blond curls were standing on end as though she'd run her hands through them more than once.
“Is everything all right?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. Then she shook her head and swiped one hand over the back of her neck. “No, it isn't. Ruby's going to join us. Is it all right if I wait until she gets here to explain?”
“Of course,” I said. I wiped my feet on the mat.
Maggie took a slow, deep breath and blew it out softly. Then she smiled at me, a much warmer smile than the first one she'd given me, and we started up the stairs. “So how was your morning?” she asked. “Weren't the books for Reading Buddies supposed to be here today?”
“They were delivered just before we opened. Abigail and I spent the morning sorting everything.”
Reading Buddies was a program that paired kindergarteners and first graders with fourth and fifth grade students to help improve the little ones' reading skills. It was one of the first programs I'd put in place when I'd arrived at the library. We'd just received a grant to buy enough books so that every child would have one to keepâboth the beginning readers and their would-be teachers.
“Did you know Mary could do calligraphy?” I asked.
Maggie shook her head. “I didn't, but she can do so many other things it doesn't exactly surprise me.”
Mary was Mary Lowe, who worked for me at the library. She looked like a greeting card version of a grandmotherâwith fluffy white hair, kind eyes and a collection of seasonal cardigans. She was also the long-running state kickboxing champion for her age and often took the stage on amateur night at a local club that featured exotic dancing.
I'd learned that Mary could do calligraphy just that morning when she'd offered to add each child's name inside their book. At this point I wouldn't have been surprised to learn she could solve complex calculus problems and ride a unicycle.
I could smell the pizza as soon as we got to the top of the stairs on the third floor. “What kind of pizza did you make?” I asked as I followed my noseâand Maggieâdown the hall to her studio. “Not that it makes any difference. I'm just curious.”
“Chicken and roasted red pepper.” She fished her keys out of the pocket of her jeans and unlocked the door, crossing the room to check the toaster oven where the pizza was heating. I set the cinnamon rolls on the counter near the sink and shrugged off my raincoat, draping it over one of the stools around the center workspace in the bright studio. The fact that Maggie hadn't immediately asked what was in the container was just one more indication of how preoccupied she was.
I looked around the room for a clue about what Maggie was working on. Since she'd said she wanted to wait for Ruby before she explained what was troubling her, I found myself wondering if it could be work related. An oversized pad of newsprint was attached to her easel with binder clips. I walked over to get a better look at the rough pencil sketch on the paper. It looked like a map of Mayville Heights and the surrounding area.
Maggie was primarily a collage artist these days, and she often used her own photos in her pieces. But she'd also done some large installation pieces, including a locker room scene for the town's Winterfest celebration a couple of years before to show off the sports history in this part of the state. It had featured a life-sized version of former NHL star Eddie Sweeney, aka Crazy Eddie. The full-sized faux Eddie had led to our friend Roma meeting the full-sized, real Eddie and romance had followed.
“What are you working on, Mags?” I asked. I could make out the water and the Riverwalk in her drawing.
Maggie set down the jug of apple cider she was pouring for us and joined me by the easel. “I'm roughing out an idea for a collage map of the hiking trails in this area. It's for the new Tourism Coalition.”
“That's the Riverwalk, isn't it?” I pointed to the bottom of the paper.
She nodded. “Uh-huh. And that's the road that runs behind Wisteria Hill.”
Wisteria Hill was the former Henderson family homestead. Roma owned the property now.
Maggie pointed to the top section of the sketch. “And that's Turtle Lake.”
“I like it,” I said.
She smiled, the first truly warm smile since I'd arrived. “Thanks. The main problem is coming up with something that has enough visual interest to be a large posterâthe kind of thing that can be hung in tourist information centers, town halls, places like the libraryâbut not so detailed that it's useless when it gets reproduced brochure size to hand out to tourists.”
I glanced over at Maggie's laptop on the counter. “Have you taken any photos yet?”
“Some,” she said. “And I have some older ones from Ruby that belonged to her grandfather that I really want to use. Those I need to scan.”
Behind us the toaster oven beeped and Maggie went to get our pizza. She was just putting it on the plates, three pieces of deep blue Fiestaware, when Ruby arrived. She was wearing gray leggings, a green and white long-sleeved T-shirt and a jean jacket with faux zebra collar and cuffsâher own creation, I was guessing. Her hair, with vibrant electric blue streaks, was pulled into a tight knot on the top of her head, which showed off her long neck. “Hi, Kathleen,” she said, smiling at me. The smile seemed a little forced.
Like Maggie, Ruby was a full-time artist. Her pop art paintings, done in bold acrylics as vivid as her hair, were finding fans outside of the Midwest and there was talk of a show in Chicago in the fall.
The three of us sat at the worktable with our pizza and cider. Ruby looked over at Maggie. “You didn't tell her yet?”
Maggie shook her head. “No, I waited for you.”
“What's going on?” I said.
Ruby made a face. “Some stuff was stolen from the store,” she said flatly.
The store was the artists' co-op store. It was downtown on Main Street, across from the Riverwalk, and the location made it a popular spot with tourists. Maggie and Ruby worked there, as did all the other artists who were part of the co-op. Ruby was the current president of the board that ran the co-op and the shop.
I frowned at her now. “What was taken?” During the time that I'd lived in Mayville Heights, there had never been a theft at the artists' store as far as I knew.
Maggie sighed and set down her fork. “Some woven placemats and two linen stitch scarves, the ones Ella made. They've been popular with tourists.”
“Do the police have any leads?”
Maggie and Ruby exchanged a look.
“You did call the police, didn't you?” I asked, my eyes darting between them.
Maggie raked a hand through her hair. “No, we didn't. And we don't want to. “
“It's complicated,” Ruby added.
My appetite suddenly disappeared, and it felt as though my stomach were trying to tie itself into a knot. I could only think of one reason for Maggie and Ruby to be so reluctant to call the policeâthey had to believe they knew who the thief was. I looked at Maggie without speaking. She played with her fork for a moment before her green eyes met mine.