Last month I asked readers to submit the first line of a mystery with the expectation that the second line would be “and then the murders started.” I was overwhelmed with the response and there is more than one story in my future, I can tell! However, the “winner” is Ashley P, who submitted the following:
All of Main Street showed up at Paws and Claws to admire the tuna-and-pâté cake for Mr. Whisker’s birthday extravaganza, but the old cat didn’t seem to be impressed with what should have been another prize-winning creation.
This simple beginning morphed in my warped mystery writer brain into the short story, Paws & Claws. Here’s how it starts:
All of Middleton seemed to have shown up at Paws & Claws to join the extravaganza celebrating twenty-one years of life with Mr. Paws. The old cat hadn’t seemed impressed with the tuna-and-pâté creation Sissy invented for the occasion but he’d sat regally on the counter, accepting the fishy treats, catnip toys and accolades. One by one, well-wishers had taken their turn in front of him, but none had drawn more than a passing sniff from the tabby.
Mr. Paws might not be the oldest cat in the world, but he was by far the oldest anyone in Middleton could remember, so it seemed a shame it was on his birthday the murders started. It seemed doubly sad the first victim was Sissy, but when I walked into the store early the next morning, there she was, laying lifeless in a pool of her own blood, splattered with leftover pâté, Mr. Paws nowhere to be seen.
I’d been at the party, of course. I never miss a chance to eat and while Sissy may not have been my favorite, I never walked away from her with an empty stomach. Mr. Paws might have appreciated her efforts more if he’d been eating out of garbage cans, but my old friend had been spoiled and pampered all his life. I’d made a pig of myself yesterday, but after my morning constitutional, I decided to pop in to help Sissy with the leftovers.
My momentary sadness at the loss of an easy meal ticket didn’t stop me from giving the pâté a sniff, careful where I put my paws, but even I couldn’t stomach the smell so I went looking for Mr. Paws. I nudged open a supply closet Sissy usually kept unlatched for when he desired a quick getaway, but there was no sign of him. The tiny room looked painfully clean, as most things did once Sissy got her hands on them. The shop had been a pleasantly dusty used book store when her Uncle Pete ran it. After he died, she’d gone through with mop, bucket and broom, and while it smelled better, it didn’t seem to attract more customers.
“Books are dying,” Mr. Paws had lamented once, but since I couldn’t eat them and they were uncomfortable to sleep on, I had never had much use for books. I wasn’t sure how something inanimate could die, but if they did, I had hoped Sissy would convert the place into a pet supply shop. Didn’t seem much chance of that happening now.
Mr. Paws had been devoted to Pete and had only tolerated Sissy, but then, Pete had eyes for only one cat while Sissy had lavished attention on any animal who would give her the time of day. Her infidelity had been only one of a laundry list of things he hadn’t liked about his new caretaker. He’d tried to read the entire list to everyone who came into the shop, but people have a habit of ignoring what cats have to say.
The only thing the new shop had in common with the old was the presence of the massive gray tabby so his absence now left a deafening silence. That disturbed me much than the presence of the dead woman. I climbed to the top of one of the bookcases and surveyed the room. “Mr. Paws?” I bellowed. My volume would have gotten shoes thrown at me had I been on a backyard fence. You have to be careful where you howl. Some people have no appreciation for music.
I waited but heard no meow in response. Leaping lightly from bookcase to bookcase, I headed to the office. “Paws, are you in here?” Nothing. I always say, leave no stone unturned, so I jumped onto the counter and pushed hard against the door of the mini fridge until it fell open. Mr. Paws wasn’t curled up inside, but there was a chicken breast in an open plastic container and I wasted no time dispatching it. No reason to let it go to waste.
Belly full, I sat licking my paws, surveying the office, which looked as though someone had picked it up and shaken it. When Sissy’d gone on her health food kick, she’d dragged Mr. Paws along with her. In retaliation, the old tabby had engaged in guerilla warfare, scrambling the carefully laid out items on her desk and pilfering office supplies, but he was not the tornado that hit this place. Whoever had plunged the knife in Sissy’s chest had ransacked her office. The hair along the back of my neck stood on end. I needed to find my friend.
I headed for the shelves where Sissy kept used textbooks, the layer of dust covering them a testament to customer indifference. I squeezed in behind the books and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. How the rotund tabby had managed to get back here without knocking anything off the shelf was a mystery. A pair of scissors, a stapler, two tape dispensers, a huge pile of rubber bands and a small stack of mail were sitting right where they’d been the last time I’d checked out the stash, but there was no sign of Mr. Paws.
The bell on the front door rang. There were a few footsteps and then screaming. I flattened myself and covered my ears with my paws. Why do humans scream? It isn’t as though if this woman could just scream loudly enough, Sissy would leap up and tell her to stop, though I’d bet if she could have done so, she would have. Sissy never cared for hysterics. The dead woman must have been the only person in a four block radius who didn’t come running, because it wasn’t long before the store was standing room only.
Once sirens could be heard in the distance, the tone shifted from shock to curiosity. There was speculation about whether the cash drawer had been rifled and whether there would be more break-ins at other stores. There didn’t seem to be a lot of grief. Poor Sissy. You never know how little people care until you’re murdered in your own bookstore. Now her uncle Pete – his was a murder people had cared about, though the sobbing over his death hadn’t done Pete any more good than the lack of tears was hurting Sissy now. Dead was dead no matter whether people were grieved by it or not.
I don’t really care about dead humans and I only care about live ones long enough to determine whether they want to feed me or chase me away. I do care about cats and not one person in the bookstore mentioned Mr. Paws. It irritated me to think how they had gushed over him yesterday and today, not one of them bothered to notice he was missing. I sneezed. People give me hives.
I weaved my way unnoticed through the throng and went out the way I’d come in, through a kitty door that opened onto the alley. I put my nose to the ground, trying to pick up my friend’s scent, but all I could smell was asphalt and tires. What I needed was a top of the line tracking nose. Fortunately, I knew just where to find one.
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What I’m Writing
I’ve finished the first draft of The Deadly Art of Love and Murder which is the second in my Caribou King Mysteries, published by Cozy Cat Press. It’s got a lot of work before it will be off to the publisher, but it’s always a celebration to finish a first draft. It’s good timing too, because the audio version of the first book, The Deadly Art of Deception, will soon be released. If you like audio, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter because you might score a free copy!
What I’m Reading
I know. I’m really late to the party, but I’ve started the Sue Grafton alphabet series. I’m almost finished with A is for Alibi but I see she has all the way through to Y is for Yesterday (on pre-order) so I’ll be reading her on and off for awhile.