I’m announcing last call to get your kitty memorialized in the dedication of my new Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery, Cat’s Paw, launching in November. This is what the dedication looks like so far:
“The grief of losing a pet is acute yet inevitable. This book is dedicated to all those beloved, precious, wonderful kitties (and a dog) who are no longer with us, and to their people who made their world a better place.
Fraulein Fluffs · Attilla · Graywood · Tony · Mufasa · Wrangler · Two · Purr Fur · Peeps · Zoe · Blu · Mia · Shinara · Oshii · Truffles · Frazier · Dutchess · Fiona · Femi · Bernard · Zorro · Abby · Silver · Sunset · Ebony Rose · Psyche · Ursa · Midnight · Maple · Foxfire · Tigger · Shmoogus · Tutu · Pierre · Bonzaii · Gracie · Shiloh · Sally · Jelly Belly · Floppsie · Fiona · Dora · Nafista · Smokey Joe · William · Rex · Scotty · Cindy · Pinkie · Gizmo · Smokey · Chelsea · Siouxsie Mew · Princess Sheba Darling · Tim (aka Uncle Tim) · K.C. · Eddie · Gus · Mo · Wiggie · Lola · Lucy · Sammy · Oliver · Paddy”
All are welcome. Just comment this post to be added to the list.
And since we are growing ever closer to Cat’s Paw’s publication day, here is a preview of what’s to come:
The walls are gray.
Gray like wet cement.
Gray like oblivion.
The floor is tile, the industrial kind.
Toward the edges, dark grime is imbedded
like oily worms.
There are no windows; it is a basement.
I count the holes in the acoustic ceiling tiles,
then I count them again,
The British proverb, “Curiosity killed the cat” warns that being inquisitive may bring trouble. The rejoinder, “satisfaction brought it back,” tells the rest of the story. Cats exist in a constant state of tension between caution and curiosity. As long as they don’t know, they will be drawn to discovery. Once knowing is achieved, the game is over and the cat can move on to something else.
I’ve been called a crazy cat lady all my life, but I never knew what crazy was until now. Languishing in this dingy hole, knowing my freedom is in the well-meaning but inept hands of amateurs, I fear I shall lose my mind. The options are simple: I could be released or I could be arrested. If released, I put the debacle behind me; if things go the other way, well, that’s where it gets really crazy. I would need a lawyer; I could go to trial. I could be convicted, sentenced, and sent to prison. You know I didn’t do it. I’m a cat shelter volunteer, for goodness sakes! I’m not a killer.
I have to laugh—the thing I regret the most in this gray limbo of incarceration is not the fear of an uncertain future; not the anger at being judged without proof; not even the horror of what’s going on outside that basement door. It’s the absence of cats. The absence of my cats.
My name is Lynley Cannon, and on any normal day, I would be helping out at my local cat shelter, visiting with my lovely and intelligent granddaughter, researching my labyrinthine Scottish ancestry, or enjoying some other innocuous pursuit. Since I am retired, my time is my own. There is little I cannot do as long as I plan it properly with no heavy lifting and many convenient bathroom stops. I hadn’t realized how accustomed I’d become to that freedom until it was so rudely ripped away from me.
As with the cats I so love, I possess an innate curiosity which makes my life both interesting and adventurous. At sixty, however, adventure poses certain risks. Circumstances that, in past decades, would have been fun and athletic could now land me in the hospital. Yet I persevere. I rush in without considering the consequences. It is my nature.
That’s how I came to be at the Cloverleaf Animal Sanctuary Annual Art Retreat. I’m not an artist but I have always wanted to visit the celebrated shelter located on its very own island among the beautiful San Juans in Northwest Washington state. When the opportunity arose, thanks to an old school friend who happens to run the program, I jumped on the it like a cat on catnip.
Though most of the other participants were younger, more extroverted, and certainly more creative than I was, we all got along like kittens in a clowder. By the second day, it was as if we’d known each other forever, and I figured we’d stay in touch long after the retreat was over, Facebook friends if nothing more. Only one among them had rubbed me the wrong way, a bitter, spiteful woman who had no business being there in the first place since she seemed neither artistic nor sociable. But now she was dead, and I was locked in the basement until the storm died down and the police could make their way across the heaving waters.
How had this happened? Where had things gone wrong? One moment there was as much camaraderie as at a hippie love-in—and I should know, having been there and done that—the next, only fear, hatred, and this howling Northwest thunderstorm. There would be lots of time for contemplation since it didn’t look like I was going anywhere soon.
The feline ability to sense you are going on vacation before you’ve even brought the suitcase out of the closet is well-documented. To minimize your cat’s angst while you’re away, leave a piece of your clothing on the bed. Finding a compassionate and knowledgeable cat sitter is paramount.
“I’m ready,” I called to the man in the vintage maroon Cadillac parked like a limousine in front of my house. “Just give me a moment to say goodbye to the cats.”
“You’ve said goodbye to them three times already, Grandma,” Seleia chimed jovially. The sixteen-year-old knew it was an empty statement, that I would do the rounds at least once more before leaving them in her more than capable hands.
The cats sensed something was up and the group had gathered in furry curiosity to see what the tumult of suitcases and unexpected visitors was all about. Little, the smart black female, headed up the furry assembly with a loud chatter of meows. Tinkerbelle, also black, also female, but as different from Little as different could be, harmonized. Mab, the Siamese kitten I had recently rescued from a nefarious breeder, scampered back and forth across the timeworn Persian carpet with kittenish glee. Dirty Harry, my old sweetheart who was getting on in years, watched my every move from the comfort of his donut bed, golden eyes blinking love. Big Red, seventeen pounds of scaredy-cat, slunk around the edge of the room, mandarin gaze wistful and wondering.
“It’s okay,” I said, giving him a scratch on his flame-orange sideburns as he crept past, and receiving a throaty purr in reply. “Seleia will take good care of you.”
I peeked under the sofa to the spot by the heater vent where Solo pretty much lived out her solitary life. Since it was August, a flow of cool air ruffled her white fur as she hunkered against the back wall like a tiny ghost.
“ ’Bye, sweetheart.” She didn’t move but gave a little prrumph of acknowledgment.
That left Violet, my big girl. I heard kibble crunching in the kitchen and followed the sound. There she was, her beautiful gray and white fur sleek as a seal over her beach ball-shaped body.
“Seleia, make sure to keep Violet on her diet. No in-between-meal snacks, okay?”
Seleia followed me into the kitchen and picked up the food bowl, much to Violet’s disgust. She grabbed a few kibbles and put them on the floor as a compromise. “I’ll take care of it, Lynley. I’ve known these kitties for as long as you have, you know. And I’ll be staying here to watch them day and night so you really don’t have to worry.”
I had my doubts as to whether the outgoing teenager would actually be there day and night. My granddaughter, with her lovely green eyes and long, newly-hennaed hair, had a busy schedule. Besides going to school she was taking extra classes in creative subjects, and following in the footsteps of her grandma, had begun donating a few hours a week at the county animal shelter as a youth aide. Still I trusted her implicitly. Whatever she did while I was gone, be it reading teen magazines, watching television, entertaining friends, or all three at once, the kitties would always come first.
And there was also Frannie DeSoto, my best bud from Friends of Felines, the state-of-the-art cat shelter where we both obsessively volunteered. Frannie had promised to drop by and check up on things from an adult point of view. She knew cats and could tell with a glance, a sniff, and a peek in the litter box if there was a problem. Seleia could call on her if she had questions or needed help—Frannie would be there in a heartbeat.
I picked up my purse, bag, and coat—it might be eighty degrees in Portland but our northern destination was another matter. As I headed for the door, my eye caught the empty cat mat atop the back of the couch. Though it was a prime space, right by the window with a view of the front yard and the street beyond, none of the other cats had claimed it since Fluff’s passing. When her time came, the sick and elderly Fraulein Fluffs had been ready to go, but the hole in my heart where her small grey form had so gently slept would never be filled. It would lessen with time, I knew, but would never completely go.
“Goodbye, Fluffs,” I whispered. “Rest in peace.”
I gave Seleia a hug and a list of numbers to call in case of emergency, crossed the threshold of my front door, and headed down the brick-red steps for the Caddie. I looked back once at the old Victorian that had been my home for many decades, at Seleia standing in the doorway, Little in her arms, waving goodbye. Her hair shone like chestnut silk across Little’s black back. The sun sparkled, and the sky was the color of a Siamese’s eyes. The air was soft, and the song of robins drifted down from the trees. In spite of having to leave my cats behind, I felt a great inner peace. I should have known right then that such a feeling could not last.
Some superstitions claim that a black cat crossing one’s path bodes bad luck, but the Scots look upon our black moggies differently. In Scotland, an unfamiliar cat of black coloration suddenly appearing at the front door is a sign of good fortune.
There’s nothing quite like the jet-smooth glide of a Cadillac sedan, especially those older models, or maybe I’m just prejudiced because I’m an older model too. Whatever it was, I felt like a queen cruising up Interstate 5 slouched into the velour seat cushions, elbow crooked out the window, the hot summer air whipping my hair like a young girl. It was a three-hour drive from Portland to Seattle; once there we would head north to Anacortes where we would catch a private ferry to Clover Island, home of the world-renowned Cloverleaf Animal Sanctuary. To attend the annual Art Retreat was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and I was determined to relish every moment of it, including this quiet prelude to the excitement to come.
I looked over at the handsome man in the driver’s seat. With his rugged good looks and flowing silver hair, Simon Jon Bird could have been an aging movie star. We had known each other since art school though we’d lost touch for a few decades and only recently reunited at the whim of my daughter Lisa and the sixtieth birthday extravaganza she had thrown in my honor.
Lisa was my great enigma. We saw each other only rarely due to a difference in lifestyle and philosophy so huge I sometimes wondered if this were the same girl I’d raised through a childhood of skinned knees, kittens, report cards, and boys. She had grown into her own person, so in essence, she had fulfilled my hopes for her, but sometimes I wished that person and I had a little more in common.
Nonetheless it was she, this conundrum of love and estrangement, who had given me the chance to be where I was right now, on the way to a unique and unanticipated adventure with an old and cherished friend. If she had hoped for a romantic entanglement between the attractive Simon and her long-single mom, she had missed the boat though, since Simon Bird was wholly and irrefutably gay. We had been the best of friends back in school and were thrilled to find it surprisingly easy to pick up where we’d left off.
“How long have you been instructing the art retreat?” I asked as we traveled.
His brow knit, and he glanced at me with those strange silver eyes—no, they were more like mica, that flaky reflective rock that takes on whatever color is around it.
“This will be the fourteenth year. Fourteen! I can hardly believe it,” he added. “The first year we had only five people: two writers, a sculpturist, a noted photographer, and a relatively well-known artist. When I saw the line-up, I was rather intimidated. I mean, what could I possibly teach those famous and creative people about art?”
Simon laughed. “I quickly discovered that learning was a two-way street. Of course the greatest inspirations were the animals themselves. Spending the week with the dogs, cats, and other of God’s beings who live at the sanctuary brought them to places they had never explored before, at least not in such depth. By the end of the session, we were all a bit more enlightened.”
I rolled up the window against the freeway noise, grit, and stink and let the air conditioning take over. “How many people do you expect this session?”
“There will be ten, including yourself, plus three Cloverleaf volunteers.”
I snickered. “Thirteen? You aren’t superstitious?”
Simon gave me a quick smile. “Do you think it’s unlucky when a black cat crosses your path?”
“Touché.” I considered for a moment, then went on. “But why so few? I would have thought lots of folks would be interested in a workshop like yours. I could probably count ten just from people I know personally.”
“We tried taking more for a couple of years. If I remember, twenty was the tops. But it didn’t feel the same.”
“Too much work for you?”
“It wasn’t that; they gave me an assistant.” He cocked his head in reflection. “It just didn’t have the correct dynamics. Dynamics are important in a workshop like ours.”
We were coming up on a turnoff with its cluster of gas stations and trucker restaurants. A mile-high sign read Good Eats Here and another proclaimed Cheapest Gas This Side of Centralia. I guess we didn’t need eats or gas because Simon zipped right by.
“I wish we could take more,” said Simon. “We turn away at least ten times as many as we admit.”
“How do you decide who gets in? Do they take a test? Give references? Know someone who knows someone? Or is it first come, first served?”
“Actually the majority of the spaces are auctioned and sold to the highest bidder. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to the sanctuary, of course,” he went on to say.
“Wow!” I gasped. “That would cut out most of my friends. Myself included.”
“Three spaces are given as a scholarship at no charge,” he defended. “So you see, it’s not as elitist as it may seem. And I always get one space to use at my discretion.” He looked over and smiled.
“That would be me?”
He nodded and turned his eyes back to the road, the smile lingering.
“Well, I’m very grateful, Simon. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this.”
“I’m glad you took me up on the offer. For a while, you weren’t sure it was something you wanted to do.”
“Oh, I always wanted to do it. I just couldn’t figure out how to pull it off. The house, the cats, my volunteering responsibilities. But in the end, I just said to heck with everything and took a leap of faith. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d imagined. Things just sort of fell into place. The cats are my biggest concern. With my granddaughter staying at the house, I know they’ll be fine.”
“Seleia seems like a smart girl. You aren’t afraid she’ll go all teenager on you and have wild parties behind your back?”
“Not a chance. She’s not that kind of person. Not that she doesn’t like parties—I’m sure she does—but she’s way too self-assured to bother lying about it. Besides, Carol will be checking up from time to time. You remember my mother, Carol, from the old days?”
“Ah, the redoubtable Mrs. Mackey of the clan MacKay. Yes, I remember her well, relentlessly researching her Scots heritage.”
“Now she’s into solving television mysteries, the grittier the better. I’ve taken over the interest in the MacKay family tree.”
“I, uh, I’m glad to hear she’s still with us.”
“Oh, she’s very much with us. She and her friend, Candy, have a nice condo in Northwest Portland. Mum doesn’t drive but gets around just fine anyway. Between the two of them, they’re always doing something fun. Earlier this year she bought a gun and was taking shooting lessons.”
Simon raised an eyebrow. “Then we needn’t worry about Seleia, need we?”
I shook my head. “And it’s only a week,” I added. “What can happen in a week?”
I knew the moment it came out of my mouth that I had tempted fate but I was in too good a mood to care. The amorphous shadow of foreboding receded as quickly as it had come.