The body was on the front seat of my truck, about halfway between the passenger door and the cloth grocery bag I'd left in the middle of the seat.
"Not again," I muttered, setting the box of glasses I was holding in the bed of the truck. I glanced at my watch. I couldn't exactly leave the body where it was, but I didn't want to be late, either.
A flash of movement registered at the edge of my vision. I let out a breath as what I'd caught a glimpse of came into focus. A second corpse, small, furry, and rodent-like, just like the one on the seat, appeared to be hovering about three inches above the hood of the truck.
I narrowed my eyes in the general direction of the seemingly levitating body. "Very nice, Owen," I said. "I'm sure Everett will be happy to learn that the offender who's been digging up his onion sets has been dealt with."
Everett Henderson, my backyard neighbour, had been waging a war all summer long against a persistent and aggressive vole that seemed to be digging up whatever he planted just as quickly as he planted it—for sport Everett insisted. His wife, Rebecca, had tried to convince him that if he'd just leave the vole one small area to dig in, it would leave the rest of the garden alone. But Everett wasn't willing to concede one square inch of the yard to what he called "a thieving interloper." He'd tried tenting the entire garden with netting, setting out a perimeter of mothballs, putting a large owl statue on an overturned galvanized bucket in the middle of the bed and even spraying a boundary around the garden of a pest control product that allegedly contained fox urine. The vole had been undeterred. It had, however, met its match in Owen, it seemed.
Just then the small, gray and white tabby appeared—literally—on the hood of the truck, holding the dead vole in his mouth. There had been a time when Owen's ability to appear and disappear at will had been disconcerting, now it was just something he did, a quirk, like the way he had to inspect his food before he ate it or how he loved to ride shotgun in the truck. There was a gleam of satisfaction in his golden eyes as he looked at me. I felt sorry for the dead rodent. It had never stood a chance against the cat.
Owen and his brother Hercules, had spent the early part of their lives—at least as far as I knew—out at Wisteria Hill, Everett Henderson's former family homestead. Both cats were excellent hunters, a skill that had most likely been honed during that time.
I pointed toward the backyard. "We don't want to keep Ruby waiting," I said, making a hurry-up gesture with one finger. Normally, since it was Thursday, I would have already been on my way to tai chi class but it had been cancelled. My friend Maggie Adams, who was the instructor, was over at the Stratton Theatre, supervising the installation of artwork from the Artists' Co-op that she was past president of.
Owen immediately jumped down to the driveway and headed for the backyard, the dead vole still firmly in his mouth, passing Hercules on the path that wound around the side of the house. They exchanged a silent glance, the kind of mute exchange I'd seen pass between them dozens of times. Sometimes I wondered if they used a kind of mental telepathy to communicate. Given their other skills the idea really wasn't that far fetched.
Hercules launched himself onto the hood of the truck in his brother's place. He gave himself a shake and then padded over to me. "Mrrr," he said, cocking his head to one side, and it seemed to me there was a question in the sound.
I reached over to stroke the soft black fur on the top of his head. "Yes," I said. "I think Everett's garden may be safe, at least for now." I glanced at the front seat where the other furry corpse still lay. Whatever it was, it didn't look like another vole. I turned my attention back to Hercules. "We have to leave in a minute." I tipped my head toward the windshield. "Could you move that so I don't have to go get a shovel?"
He craned his neck to see what I was gesturing at, then he walked through the windshield, landing lightly on the front seat. Unlike Owen, Hercules couldn't become invisible on a whim. He could, however, walk through walls, doors and windows, through pretty much any obstruction that got in his way.
The first time I'd seen him do that, I thought I'd imagined it. I thought I was overtired, that my eyes were playing tricks on me or I needed glasses. My knees had started to shake so hard that I'd had to sit down on the floor before I fell down. That time Hercules had vanished into one of the library's meeting rooms. He hadn't darted past me. He had walked through the solid wooden door to the small meeting room just as though it wasn't there and it almost seemed as though there had been a faint "pop" as the end of his tail had disappeared.
I remembered how I had pressed my hands on the door, pushing at the smooth wood looking for some kind of secret opening or hidden panel. But the door had been thick and unyielding. The second time I'd witnessed the cat walk through a solid wall I'd been afraid I was having some sort of mental breakdown. Now, like Owen's disappearing act, it was just Hercules being Hercules.
It had never felt like a good idea for anyone to find out what the cats could do, so I'd always kept that piece of information to myself. I hadn't told anyone, including Marcus. Detective Marcus Gordon was logical, sensible and practical—and very handsome. I was crazy about him. I couldn't keep this kind of secret from him much longer, especially since I'd discovered his cat, Micah, shared Owen's talent for disappearing. The fact that all three cats came from the old Henderson estate, had to have something to do with their abilities. I just had no idea what
The little black and white furball was sniffing Owen's second victim now. He nudged the corpse with his nose and finally picked it up in his mouth, making his way over to the open driver's door where he dropped his burden on the edge of the seat. He made a face, crinkling his nose and scraping his tongue against his teeth as though he were trying to get rid of a bad taste. He looked up at me, green eyes slightly annoyed.
"What?" I said. I knew that look.
He poked the body with one white-tipped paw. I leaned down for a closer look.
The furry corpse wasn't a corpse at all, I realized. It was actually a large, dark gray pom-pom made out of some kind of faux fur material.
"Okay, where did that come from?" I asked. I slipped a covered elastic from my wrist and smoothed my hair back off my face into a ponytail. I'd had the long, dark layers trimmed over the weekend but my hair was still long enough to pull it back when I wanted to.
The cat gave me a blank stare. He didn't seem to have any idea, either. Then I remembered that last night when Maggie had stopped by, she'd had a bag of items from fiber artist Ella King that were going to the artist's co-op store that Maggie helped manage.
Owen adored Maggie, he had a packrat streak that went with his natural cat inquisitiveness, and he wasn't above swiping something that took his fancy. From time to time I'd caught him raiding Everett and Rebecca's recycling bin. Had he swiped the fuzzy ball from Maggie's bag?
I picked up the pom-pom and leaned around the door of the truck. "Owen," I called.
In a moment he poked his head around the side of the house. Part of a dried leaf was stuck to his left ear. What? his expression seemed to say.
I held up my hand, the ball of gray fur dangling from between my thumb and index finger. "Explain this," I said.
The cat made his way over to me, making low muttering noises in the back of his throat. He jumped up onto the front seat next to Hercules, glaring at his brother as though he thought he'd been ratted out. Hercules pointedly moved sideways onto the passenger side of the truck, lifting his chin and gazing out the window with a bit of a self-righteous attitude.
I was still holding on to the pom-pom. Owen tried to grab it from me, coming up on his hind legs, but I'd seen his tail twitch from the corner of my eye just before he moved and for once I was faster. I whipped my hand behind my back. "Were you rooting around in Maggie's bag last night?" I said sternly.
The little gray tabby immediately ducked his head as though he'd suddenly discovered something engrossing on the blanket that covered the bench seat.
I leaned across the seat and stashed the pom-pom in the glove compartment. I was pretty sure Owen's skills didn't extend to popping that open.
"I know you love Maggie," I said. I suspected that was why he'd swiped the gray ball of faux fur. In his kitty reasoning he'd expected to be caught and that we'd make a trip to return what he'd taken and he'd be adorable and contrite.
Or maybe I was attributing too human a motive to a cat, albeit a pretty extraordinary cat. Maybe it was simply a case of Owen see, Owen like, Owen take.
© Sofie Kelly