I set the sandwich on top of the dresser. I could tell right away that Elvis was not sold on my idea of supper. He gave the blue bubble glass plate a suspicious look and his eyes narrowed, but he didn't say a word. He was exceedingly polite, for the most part.
Not to mention he was a cat.
"What? You don't like it?" I asked. "It's peanut butter, dill pickle and bacon."
His whiskers twitched at the last word. In Elvis's world everything went better with bacon, except maybe peanut butter and dill pickles.
I picked up half the sandwich and took a bite. "It's good. I swear," I mumbled around a mouthful of creamy, salty, crispy goodness. Elvis may have been polite, but he wasn't a stickler with respect to table manners. "You know, this isn't that different from the real Elvis's favorite sandwich," I told him. "Peanut butter, banana and bacon."
The cat made a huffy sound through his nose at me. As far as he was concerned he was the "real" Elvis, a sleek black cat with a rakish scar across his nose. I reached over and stroked his fur. The top of his head was warm from the early-evening August sun. He closed his green eyes and began to purr.
I set my food down and reached for the mug that held my coffee. It was one of twelve I'd bought when a diner up in Belfast had closed and auctioned off its contents back in the spring. The mugs had replaced the mismatched yard sale collection we'd had in the staff room. I'd also bought a mint green Hamilton Beach milk shake maker and a box of 45s from the diner's jukebox to sell in the shop.
My shop, Second Chance, was a repurpose store, offering everything from furniture to housewares to musical instruments-most of it from the '50s through the '70s. It was part secondhand shop, part thrift store. Some items even got new lives, like the tub chair that in its previous incarnation had actually been a bathtub, or the china cups and saucers that were now tiny planters.
The store was located in an eighteen hundreds redbrick house, just where Mill Street began to climb uphill, in the town of North Harbor, Maine. We were on the edge of the downtown, about a fifteen-minute walk from the harbor front and close to a highway off-ramp, which made it easy for tour buses to find us.
Elvis and I had stayed late to work on my latest project: turning a small metal table with a glass top and a glass shelf into a bar cart. I'd brought the sandwich makings with me for supper, along with a bit of dry cat food for Elvis so we didn't have to go home and come back again. Second Chance had been busy all day. We'd been open for more than a year now and I was tickled to see that some of the same tourists who had discovered us just a few months after we'd opened were coming back again. I was happy the repurpose shop was still busy as summer began to wind down, and I was hoping that would continue into the fall, but so many customers meant that I didn't get a lot of time to work on new items to add to our dwindling inventory.
Right now we were replenishing our stock with things we were selling on consignment for Clayton McNamara. Clayton had lived in North Harbor all his life. In fact he'd been romantically involved with my grandmother-when they were both in the first grade. Their short-lived romance had ended when she kissed another man. In Gram's defense he did have two peanut butter cookies in his lunchbox.
At the urging of his daughter and his nephew, my friend Glenn, the old man was trying to make some space in his small house and clear out several outbuildings on the property. I'd bought some pieces of furniture and kitchen items from one of those buildings. They were projects I hoped to get to in the fall. The rest, most of which had belonged to Clayton's father, was being sold in the shop. We were getting ready to tackle the house next and we were also planning a yard sale for September. Work was pretty much all I'd been focusing on for the last couple of weeks and that was fine with me.
I took another bite of my sandwich. Elvis was the only guy in my life at the moment. "Which is also fine by me," I said aloud.
He turned to look at me and he almost looked a bit puzzled. "It's okay with me that you're the only guy in my life," I said by way of explanation, in case his confusion was from what I'd said. "You know what Liz says: 'A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.'"
It was hard not to miss the irony in hearing Liz say those words. Elizabeth Emmerson Kiley French had been married and widowed twice, and everyone who met her was charmed by her-unless they made the mistake of getting on her bad side. She was smart, beautiful and tart tongued. Men, even those a lot younger than she was, tended to lose their ability to think straight around her.
Liz was one of my grandmother's oldest friends. She, along with Charlotte Elliot and Rose Jackson, were sort of my fairy godmothers. They spoiled me a lot, nagged me on occasion and weren't shy about sharing their opinion on whatever was happening in my life. I'd suggested once that Liz should learn the words to "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," the fairy godmother's song from the Disney version of Cinderella. Liz hadn't been shy about telling me what she thought of that idea.
Rose and Charlotte both worked part-time for me at Second Chance. The rest of their time was spent working at their detective agency, Charlotte's Angels, along with Rose's gentleman friend, Alfred Peterson, quite likely the world's oldest computer hacker. Mr. P. had met all the requirements for becoming a licensed private investigator set out by the state of Maine. For the past several months Rose had been working as his apprentice.
Cases just seemed to fall into their lap. Their first investigation had started when their friend Maddie Hamilton was arrested for murder. The Angels' most recent case had begun to unwind after Rose had gone to make a very unauthorized delivery to a customer and seen a body that subsequently disappeared.
The Angels didn't have a case at the moment and I was hoping it stayed that way for a while. Because when Rose and her cohorts were investigating I always ended up getting pulled into things, no matter how vehemently I swore it wasn't going to happen this time. It had been nice to have nothing more pressing to worry about than what color to paint a trash-picked rocking chair. The only lump in the gravy was that a reality TV crew had been shooting in our neighborhood for the past three days. They were filming a pilot for some kind of treasure hunt show and the street had been clogged from early in the morning until after dark.
Thankfully, they had moved elsewhere in town right before lunch. Just that morning Rose and Elvis and I had arrived at the shop to find the parking lot more than half-full of the crew's vehicles-without my permission-and a dusty half-ton truck blocking the entrance to the space. The driver was behind the wheel, intently watching the camera crew doing something in the middle of the street several buildings away. He wore a backward Yankees ball cap and I could see several days of scruff on his face. The hat alone was enough to get him the stink eye in North Harbor, where everyone bled Sox red.
Before I could do anything, Rose had marched over to the truck and smacked the hood with the flat of her hand. The sound had echoed down the street. The driver had jumped, slopping coffee, or whatever he'd been drinking from the take-out cup he was holding, onto his shirt. As he turned toward the driver's side window I saw that the front of his green T-shirt said Kale Yeah!
I'd watched Rose talk to the man. He had wide shoulders and wiry arms under smooth brown skin and he seemed to be shrinking back into his seat. Although I couldn't hear Rose's words, I knew her body language. It had struck fear in the hearts of more than one middle school student back when she was still teaching.
After a couple of minutes she came back to my SUV, a satisfied look on her face and her ubiquitous tote bag over one arm. The truck pulled away.
"What did you say to him?" I'd asked.
"I simply reminded that young man of the importance of manners and respect for other people's property," she'd said. "And I may have mentioned how many of the nice young men and women on the town's police force are former students of mine." She'd given me an innocent look that could rival any of Elvis's. "Then he remembered a previous engagement so everything worked out just fine."
"Okay," I'd said slowly, looking down the street in the direction of the camera crew. "Do you think he's involved in the production somehow?"
Rose had shaken her head. "I think he's just another looky-loo. If he were working then why wasn't he actually doing something other than blocking our parking lot?"
"Good point," I'd said. "At least I can pull in now. Thank you."
She'd smiled. "You're welcome, dear."
She'd started for the back door and I pulled into the lot. After I'd let Rose and Elvis into the shop I'd gone in search of the person in charge of the treasure hunt project. Half an hour later the crew's vehicles were still in the parking area but I had a check in my hand large enough to take the edge off my annoyance.
I ate the last bite of my supper now-fishing out a bit of bacon for Elvis-and finished my coffee. I pulled my hair up into a ponytail and then I got to work, using a screwdriver and a thin-bladed putty knife to remove the glass top and the shelf below it from the cart. I was the only one still around. Rose and Mr. P. had gone to watch Rear Window at the library as part of their weeklong Hitchcock film festival. Liz's teenage granddaughter, Avery, who lived with her and worked part-time for me, had gone home for a short visit with her parents.
Liz and Charlotte were having dinner with Maddie. The three of them had been sorting books for the upcoming library book sale. Charlotte had called earlier to tell me that she had set aside several books she thought might be valuable to get a second opinion from me. I knew a little bit about old books from my mother, who had a small collection of first editions of some classic children's books.
"Bring them with you tomorrow," I'd told Charlotte. "I can always take photos and e-mail them to Mom if I need to."
Mac, my right-hand man and jack-of-all-trades, was out sailing. And my best friend, Jess, was at her shop down on the waterfront, working on a gorgeous gold dress for one of her customers who was planning a fall-themed second wedding. Since everyone else was busy, it had seemed like a good night to get some work done.
It had been a beautiful day, with the sky an endless, cloudless blue overhead, but now heavy clouds were rolling in from the water and I wondered if we'd get some rain later.
For now I was happy to be outside working. Elvis seemed content to stay just inside the garage door, stretched out on the top of the dresser that Mac had finished sanding and cleaning earlier in the day, watching me and making little murping comments from time to time.
Owning a repurpose shop hadn't been my plan when I graduated. I'd worked in radio after college, eventually hosting a popular evening program playing classic rock and interviewing some of the genre's best musicians. Then one day I was replaced by a syndicated music feed out of Los Angeles and a nineteen-year-old who read the weather twice an hour and called everyone "dude."
Growing up I'd spent my summers in North Harbor with my grandmother. It was where my father had been born and raised. I'd even bought a house that I'd renovated and rented. When my job vanished, I'd landed at Gram's planning to hide under the covers and eat grilled cheese sandwiches. I'd ended up opening Second Chance instead.
I'd been working for about half an hour, sanding the metal frame of the cart, when a white Audi roadster pulled into the parking lot. The driver, in strappy flat sandals, easily had a couple of inches on my five-foot-six height. She was in her early thirties, I guessed, and the sleeveless blue and white sundress she wore showed off her dark skin.
Her hair was a mass of gorgeous, caramel-colored ringlets, worn chin length. Like a lot of women with straight hair, I'd always secretly wanted curls like that.
This woman could easily be a model, I thought, and not just because she was so striking. She had perfect posture and she seemed to glide, not walk, as she made her way over to me. I felt grubby and sweaty in comparison.
I pulled the sanding mask off my face and wiped the dust from my hands with a rag. "Hi," I said, smiling at her.
She gave me a polite smile back. "I'm looking for Mac McKenzie," she said, glancing around. "Is he here?"
I shook my head. "I'm sorry. He won't be back for a while." Mac was crewing on the boat of a friend who wanted to get in some practice time before an upcoming race.
The woman exhaled softly, giving her head a little shake. "Do you by any chance know where I could find him?"
I explained about Mac being out on the water, sailing. "It'll probably be a couple of hours before they come back in. Is there anything I could help you with?"
She shook her head. "Thank you, but I need to talk to him. It's, uh, personal." She was holding what looked to be a tiny carved wooden bird and she turned it over in her fingers. Some kind of talisman or good luck charm? I wondered.
Mac had worked with me for over a year and this was the first time anyone had shown up looking for him. I couldn't help wondering why this woman I'd never seen before wanted him now. He was intensely private, so even though we worked together every day, I knew very little about his life both now, and before he'd arrived in North Harbor about eighteen months ago.
Revue de presse
“A surefire winner.”—New York Times bestselling author Miranda James
“A series sure to appeal to anyone who loves a combination of felonies and felines.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Cleverly planned and flawlessly executed...full of humor, cat antics, intrigue and suspense...the best of both worlds for those who love cats and cozy mysteries.”—Open Book Society
“Enjoyable from beginning to end; readers will look forward to more.”—RT Book Reviews
“If you enjoy a cozy mystery featuring a lovable protagonist with a bevy of staunch friends, a shop you’d love to explore, plenty of suspects, and a super smart cat, you’ll love The Whole Cat and Caboodle.”—MyShelf.com
“Enjoyable...Remember, everyone has a secret, even the cat.”—Kings River Life Magazine