10 days until Cat’s Play launches!
In my last blogpost, I asked for thoughts on how to celebrate the launch of Cat’s Play, my newest Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery! Some people picked a favorite from a list I included, while others came up with their own ideas.
So. Many. Ideas!~
I wish I could fulfill all of them, but I think I’ve come up with a fun compromise.
Since most people voted for books, I’ll be giving away a paperback copy of Cat’s Play, plus two other paperbacks from the Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery series—your choice. Books need not be read in order, so pick whatever sounds fun! Someone suggested adding a piece of cat jewelry as “…a lovely constant reminder of your books,” so I’m including a sweet black cat pendent as well.
To enter, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Launch Contest” in the subject line. (US addresses only) Winner will be announced on National Cat Day and Cat’s Play Launch Day, October 29th, 2022.
Now for the sales pitch.
Pre-order Cat’s Play (Crazy Cat Lady Mystery Book 9) now, and it will be auto-delivered wirelessly to your Kindle on October 29, 2022. Paperback versions will also be available. Of course you needn’t buy anything to enter the contest.
Just for fun, here’s an excerpt:
“Come along,” I whispered to my companions as we tiptoed up the stairs of the haunted mansion.
“It’s not haunted,” I added quickly.
“Then why are you whispering?”
Why indeed? If anything, I should be excited. After all, the house and its contents now belonged to Friends of Felines. The gift would pay off bigtime for the cat shelter once the items were sold and the stipulations were met.
Besides, our guide on this house tour was a calico cat. What could possibly go wrong?
A man was dead, and I was supposed to find his killer. No, I’m not a private investigator or an officer of the law. My name is Lynley Cannon, and I’m a cat shelter volunteer. I know cats, not murder.
The venture did start with a cat, however—Winter Orange, the dead man’s cherished puss. Her wealthy cohabitor had made elaborate arrangements in case of his demise and put Friends of Felines in charge. When asked to look after the calico, I responded with enthusiastic candor. But I’m getting ahead of myself. How could I have guessed the simple request to foster a bereaved kitty would turn into tragedy?
* * *
Friends of Felines Cat Shelter was about to come into something huge. It was all anyone could talk about, staff and volunteers alike, so when Helen Branson, the shelter’s executive director, called me into her office, I assumed it concerned the bequest. In a million years, I’d never have guessed what she would ask me to do about it.
I’ve been a volunteer at FOF for some years. It’s a quiet, happy place where humans help care for and adopt out homeless cats. There is a restful routine to it: seven a.m. cats get fed; seven-thirty medications given; eight o’clock kennels cleaned, litter boxes swapped out, water bowls filled, and so on. Cats are creatures of habit, and suddenly finding themselves in a shelter blows their life-long schedule all to bits. We try our best to make things easy for them until they move on to their new forever homes.
Jasper, an elderly red tabby, had been adopted earlier that morning, and I was mopping down his kennel to make way for a new arrival when the call came.
“Lynley, you’re wanted.” The staff girl in her print scrubs put the phone back in its cradle and smiled teasingly.
“Is it my Prince Charming come to take me away from all this?” I joked, pushing my glasses up off my nose.
The girl rolled her eyes. I guess the idea of the handsome prince and a sixty-something cat lady who couldn’t be troubled to wear makeup, let alone color her hair, seemed farfetched. “It’s Helen. She said to tell you to come up and see her when you have a chance.”
“Meaning right now,” I translated.
“Yeah, or five minutes ago.” The girl laughed. “I’ll finish setting up the kennel for you.”
She came over and took the cloth and pet-safe disinfectant spray from my hands, then sent me on my way. I didn’t linger. In all the years I’d been at the shelter, I had never once been called to the office.
Pausing briefly in the volunteer locker room to pick up the tote I called a purse and check that my apron was on straight, I proceeded upstairs to the second floor where the corporate side of the rescue was housed. The atmosphere was subdued, the long corridor vacant, and the doors to the workplaces closed. At the far end was a balcony that looked out across the lobby. The executive office sat across the hall where the director could watch over the goings-on below.
The top half of the Dutch door was ajar, and I could see Helen working on her computer. In her inbox lounged a large and formidable black cat.
I felt a shiver of excitement as I gave a little knock on the jamb. “You wanted to see me?”
Helen looked up, flashing her signature smile. “Lynley, yes. Come in and sit down.”
I obeyed, folding my hands in my lap like a schoolgirl, sudden memories of being called to the principal’s office flitting unbidden through my mind.
Helen Branson, now in her sixties, had been with Friends of Felines since its inception some decades ago. As the place grew from a tiny volunteer-run concern to a prestigious cat shelter with forty employees and several hundred volunteers, her position had grown with it. She earned a generous salary, much of which she funneled right back into the shelter. FOF was her life; she nursed and protected it like a mama cat with kittens.
Helen leaned forward, fingers steepled and elbows on her desk. From afar, with her carefully coiffed brown curls that hung precisely to her shoulders and a touch of warm-toned makeup, she didn’t look her years, but close as I was, I could see the lines. They were happy lines; I’ll give her that.
Her gray eyes sparkled, and her lips curved in a wicked, cat-like grin. “You’re an adventurous person, aren’t you Lynley?”
It’s true I seem to find myself in situations that one might consider bold or daring, and word gets around, but to have the executive director of Friends of Felines call me on it… well, that was totally unexpected. As I sat in that stiff office chair listening to Helen unfold a tale that was more fit for an Agatha Christie novel than real life, I became increasingly enthralled.
“You may have heard,” she began, “the shelter is to be the recipient of a generous bequest. Extremely generous.”
“There’s been talk,” I said tactfully. “We’ve all been wondering.”
“There is a reason there’s been no official announcement as yet.” She paused for my reaction. I gave none. “The reason is this, Lynley—it’s possible FOF may have to forfeit the gift.”
Helen reached over and stroked the cat. “Meet Odin. He helps me think. Keeps me centered on the important things.”
“Cats do that,” I uttered, my mind still trying to solve the mystery of what could keep the shelter from receiving their due.
“Are you familiar with the name Roderick Payne?”
I started. “Roderick Payne, as in the notorious recluse? As in the noted millionaire eccentric? As in…”
“…the enormous Payne fortunes?” she finished for me. “That’s the one. Mr. Payne has passed away, leaving the bulk of his estate to Friends of Felines. Not only is there an unfathomable sum of money, there are stocks, bonds, gold, jewelry, and a houseful of valuable items as well. Not to mention the mansion itself. Payne House, one of the largest and most notable homes in the West Hills, is also bequeathed to FOF.”
“Wow!” I muttered. “That’s wonderful! Isn’t it…?”
“Well, yes it is. But there is a stipulation in Mr. Payne’s will, one we may find impossible to meet.”
“I don’t understand.”
Helen pried a fat blue packet from underneath Odin, wiped off a few black hairs, and handed it to me. The cover read Last Will and Testament of Roderick Martin Payne.
For a moment, I studied the neatly calligraphed words, impressive all by themselves, then I pulled back the cover and turned over the crisp pages one by one. When I got to the end, I gave Helen a puzzled look.
“I still don’t get it. The part about caring for his cat is straightforward enough—that’s standard with our Friends Fur-ever program. And the list of assets, well, it’s overwhelming, but I’ll take their word for it. It’s this one that makes no sense.” I flipped through, found what I was looking for, and held it out to the director. “What does it mean?”
“And therein lies the conundrum.”
Helen rose. Moving to her front window, she gazed across the balcony down onto the kitten room in the lobby below. For a few moments, she watched the antics of the young cats at play, then she turned back to me.
“You have to understand, Lynley, we could really use this gift. It could mean the groundbreaking of the new hospital wing we’ve wanted for so long. And to lose it over a technicality…” She harrumphed and returned to her desk. “I don’t know about the rumor mill, but only a few people have been told of the bequest itself, and even fewer about this… twist.” She flicked the document with a blunt-cut fingernail. “We want to keep it that way. No point in getting everyone’s hopes up until we’re more certain of our footing. That’s where you come in, Lynley. I need three things from you.”
Three things? My curiosity ramped up as I tried to envision what they might be. I had a hunch about the first two, but as to the third, I dared not guess.
“Number one has to do with Mr. Payne’s possessions. I understand you know something about antiques.”
“A bit. I’m no expert, but I have friends who are. I’d be happy to arrange for someone to come have a look, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Yes, exactly. We are thinking of doing an online auction at some point in the future, and first we need to get an idea of what is there.” Her face scrunched into a mock frown. “I’m useless at that sort of thing. I wouldn’t know the difference between Art Nouveau and eighties’ kitsch!”
“Unless the items are terribly obscure, that shouldn’t be a problem.” I was thinking of my friend who ran the antique mall on 42nd street. What Gil, pronounced Ghee in the French manner, didn’t know about old stuff you could fit into a gold 1890s sewing thimble.
“Perfect. See what you can find out and let me know.”
She scribbled something on a notepad.
“Next, I was wondering if you would foster Mr. Payne’s cat Winter Orange—Winnie for short. She’s a calico and has proven herself to be somewhat of a diva. It will take someone with your expertise to make sure she is cared for properly. Are you interested?”
“Of course. I was about to ask Kerry if there were any cats who needed fostering. I can take her today if she’s ready.”
“There is a catch, Lynley, and it may be a deal breaker. According to Mr. Payne’s wishes, the cat must remain in her own home.”
“You mean the Payne mansion?” I spluttered.
Helen nodded. “That’s the agreement. Everything Winnie needs is already there—beds, toys, food. Human meals will be provided as well, and Mr. Payne left a generous allowance for whoever takes on this job. Are you up for a little live-in cat sitting?”
I opened my mouth to say something, but no words came out. Things were flashing through my mind: How long would it be? What about my other duties? What about my own cats—all nine of them?
“I’ll do it,” I exclaimed before I could stop myself. “As long as I don’t have to be there twenty-four-seven, I think I can manage. I’d probably be putting in some hours there anyway working on the estate auction.”
“Are you sure? I know it’s a lot to ask. And don’t worry—if it gets to be too much or if something comes up, I can arrange for someone else to take over. I don’t want you to feel pressured.”
“Yes, I’m sure. You asked me if I was adventurous—well, I’d say this is bound to qualify.”
“That will be a great relief to the staff. Winnie has been staying here since Mr. Payne’s death, and to put it nicely, she’s not a happy camper. Hopefully once she’s back home, she will feel better. When do you think you’d be ready to begin?”
I did some quick calculations. “Is tomorrow afternoon soon enough?”
“Whatever works for you, Lynley. I’m just grateful you’ve agreed. You’re doing us a big service.” Helen picked up her desk phone and punched a number. “Good news, Kerry. Lynley Cannon is going to foster Winnie. Can you get her set to go for…” She put a hand over the mouthpiece. “Three o’clock tomorrow? Will that work for you?”
“Yes, that’s fine… I’ll tell her.”
Helen hung up, giving a sigh of relief. “You’ve made the foster department very happy. Apparently our little Winnie is a screamer. There’s a booklet of instructions that go with her, but it’s back at Payne House. If you need anything that isn’t already provided, I have a number you can call. Mr. Payne wanted to make sure Winnie’s sitter was cared for in every way.”
Curiouser and curiouser, I thought, trying to picture myself in a mansion, and failing.
“That brings us to the last item on the list, the codicil.”
I took up the will once more. “How did they put it? ‘Codicil one: Stipulation to be met before the beneficiary organization can inherit, recorded on video.’ There’s a video?”
Instead of replying, Helen pulled a remote controller from her drawer. She clicked it, and the flat-screen TV on her wall came to life.
At first there was only flickering, accompanied by soft, classical music, Brahms if I recalled correctly. I was about to comment when someone cleared their throat. They coughed and gave another ahem. The picture cleared to reveal a man at a massive antique desk holding a blue folder. His face was in shadow but the tapestry behind him bloomed with rich color and light.
He began to read, an elderly voice, low but rising as he went along.
“I, Roderick Martin Payne, a resident of the County of Multnomah, State of Oregon, declare that this is a codicil to my last will and testament, which is dated as aforementioned. Whereas I now desire to make certain changes in my last will and testament, now therefore, I do hereby make, publish, and declare this as a first codicil to my said last will and testament by adding thereto…”
Payne paused, grunted, then in a flurry of frustration, tossed the folder at the camera. “Aw, heck, Debon! I can’t read this stuff. It’s all gobbledygook to me.”
“Uh,” said a voice off-camera. “Just say whatever you want, Rod. It’ll be fine.”
“Okey-dokey. That I can do.”
Payne straightened his posture, folded his hands in front of him, and began again.
“I, Roderick Martin Payne, being of sound mind and all that legal rot, want to issue this codicil to my will. It’s simple, really…”
But it wasn’t. Payne seemed to feel it necessary to include his views on politics, religion, and the state of the world as a preface. As the voice droned on, my interest shifted to the picture itself. Since I could see nothing of the speaker beyond his silhouette against the bright cloth, I began to study the other things within the frame. Beside the tapestry hung a painting: an autumn hill, bright crimson and gold intermingled with dark blues and forest greens. A Tom Thomson—original I presumed. A bronze statuette of a bucking horse might have been a Remington. A glass paperweight contained an intriguing inset, a gold pyramid with an eye at the top. Egyptian? I wondered. I’d recently had occasion to learn a bit about ancient Egyptian relics, but those were mostly in the theme of the cat god Bast. This motif was unfamiliar to me.
My attention jerked back to Payne as he rang the small prayer bell on his desk. He giggled, seeming very pleased with himself. I didn’t need to see his face to know he was grinning.
“All points of this bequest will become null and void if the recipient does not fulfill this stipulation in a timely manner. Now listen carefully. The beneficiary, Friends of Felines Cat Shelter of Portland, Oregon, will be responsible for the following: the discovery and the arrest of my murderer.”
There was a pause, then the voice took up again, louder than ever. As he leaned in toward the camera, a beam of light hit his face, a mask of wrinkles and rage. “You got that, Helen? Find my killer or you don’t get a dime!”
Helen clicked off the machine and sat back in her chair. The document dropped from my hand, and I gave a little squeak.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I blurted. “Mr. Payne knew he was going to be murdered? Why didn’t someone stop it? The police? Why wasn’t he given protection?”
I paused as another question came clear. “And why ever would he give the job of finding his killer to us?”
Helen put up a hand. “I can’t answer any of that, Lynley. I have no idea what went on in Mr. Payne’s final days nor what he was thinking when he made this record.”
She paused to pet Odin, an indication of her thought process. Then her eyes fixed on mine. “I can tell you one thing, however. According to the Oregon State Medical Examiner, Roderick Payne died of natural causes.”