Copy Cats is the second Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery, which I began to write soon after my publishing success with Cats’ Eyes. By this time, I had a few four-and five-star reviews under my belt, and was enthused about seeing what Lynley could get up to next. The idea of a cat shelter volunteer character created so many possibilities! It was hard to narrow things down to one subject alone.
I had recently attended a class in pet communication, and though, like Lynley, it didn’t instantly turn me into a cat psychic, I saw its place among the mysteries that are cat. When a cat comes into the shelter with obvious story to tell, but they’re stray so there’s nothing to go on, we all wish there was a magical portal to see into their brains. There are a few special people can can.
Add a cat counterfeiting ring and a serial killer who murders with a cat-like claw, and you have Copy Cats, book 2 of the Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery Series.
Copy Cats, , the 2nd Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery
If your cat told you there was murder afoot, would you believe him? When cat-lady Lynley Cannon attends a workshop on animal communication– the psychic kind– she never guesses it could lead to a scheme both conniving and deadly. Someone in Portland is counterfeiting show cats, but that’s not the worst of it. Their techniques are savage and abusive, and Lynley must find the culprits before they do more harm. To compound matters, there’s a serial killer on the loose, mangling his victims with a gruesome cat-like claw. The crimes are connected, taking crazy to a whole new level.
Praise for Copy Cats:
Great cat crime story! Mollie Hunt is a true cat lover who understands cats and writes about them beautifully. Her stories are captivating, with both suspense but also humour. I discovered Mollie Hunt’s books only recently and I am so glad I did! I read a lot of cat crime novels and I can say Mollie Hunt is one of the best authors. — Reader, UK
I love that in the beginning of every chapter Hunt gives the reader some cat knowledge, whether it is something regarding Siamese cats and their purebred status to the finicky way a tortoise cat acts……it is always interesting information. — Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
THE ROOM WAS SILENT. Not a breath, not a sneeze, not a cell phone ping sounded throughout the crowd. Attention focused on the woman on the dais as though she were the only star in the sky.
In a high-backed antique wing chair, its gold brocade at odds with the austerity of the convention room, she sat like a rock star queen. A single spot shone down on her generous proportions.
Her eyes were closed.
In her hand, she held a photograph.
I am the crazy cat lady, but I’m not quite crazy yet.
Basically I’m just a lady who likes cats.
And has several cats.
And volunteers at a cat shelter.
And fosters sick cats.
Well, you get the picture, but I don’t see how any of that makes me certifiable and certainly not nuts enough to believe one session with a pet psychic could break open a plot of abuse, perversion and brutal murder. Ask my friends, though I’ll admit they may be a bit biased, being mostly cat people, too. They’ll tell you I went into this with only the best intentions. I had no idea at the time where it would lead or I would never have gotten involved. But I did and once in I had to see it through. As with cats, curiosity trumps my better judgment every time.
I don’t know what I expected when I signed up for the Animal Communications Conference and Advanced Workshop given by the preeminent icon of pet whisperers, la Zoe. A little fun, some light entertainment. Not that I don’t believe humans can commune with their animal companions—I do. I talk to cats all the time, and usually they talk back, but it’s all pretty basic. I guess I just wanted to know if there were more to it than feed me, pet me, and whatever do you think you’re doing? if I didn’t perform the previous in a timely manner. An insight into feline philosophy, for instance? Or a catly consensus on world events? Maybe they could tell me the secrets of the universe, or even why they prefer one litter over another—that would be convenient.
Yes, animal communication would be a handy trick, though at the time I didn’t hold out much hope of ever mastering it. And it certainly never crossed my mind that if I did, I might learn things I’d rather not know.
My name is Lynley Cannon, daughter of Carol Mackey, grandmother of Seleia Voxx, “mom” of Dirty Harry, Big Red, Solo, Little, Violet, Fraulein Fluffs, and my new and wonderful family member, Tinkerbelle. Those last seven are cats. I have a human daughter too, but when it comes to Lisa, I get along better with the cats.
I’m a busy person in spite of the fact that I’m nearing sixty. Sixty! It sounds so old! Except for the aches, pains, and intermittent memory loss, I don’t feel like a senior citizen in the throes of my golden years. The autumn of my life—what crap! Of course my father said the same thing when he turned eighty. Eighty—now that’s old!
Cats don’t care how old you are. They don’t look at your time-ravaged body, your wrinkling face, drying skin, gnarled knuckles, or veined hands. In fact, I believe they prefer older people. Less drama, less fear. It’s true that cats can smell fear and it irritates them. They would much rather smell nice calm happy emotions, the ones they can take a nap on.
I spend a lot of time with cats. Some might think that’s a bad thing, but my friends take it for granted. Besides caring for my own little clowder, I volunteer at Friends of Felines in my spare time, and since I’m retired, that means nearly every day. FOF, as we affectionately call it, is a small not-for-profit no-kill state-of-the-art cat haven. Built with love, sweat, tears, and many generous donation dollars, I am proud to say it’s become a model for shelters all over the United States.
I find peace helping those homeless sweethearts transition to their new lives in caring homes. Why people give up their pets I will never understand. Oh, yes, I’ve heard all the reasons, and some are certainly valid. Death, for instance. And illness. Homelessness is a new one that we’re seeing more and more these days. But excuses such as it got too old or it isn’t cute anymore just make my hackles rise. To me, a pet is a life-long commitment, like a child, only pets don’t grow up and go off to college; they stay and you love them. That’s all there is to it.
And that brings up another reason I’d been looking forward to the Animal Communication Seminar. A good percentage of FOF’s guests were strays with secret stories of the streets; many a time I’d wished they could tell me what happened out there to make them skittish or fearful or mad. Maybe with la Zoe’s professional instruction, I might finally be able to find out. My motives were innocent, I swear. There was no sense of doom, no inner alarms going off. I didn’t hear angels or see fairies or feel as if I were in the Time Tunnel. How could I have known that those few hours were going to change my life?
* * *
I may be a crazy cat lady, but I wasn’t the only one there by a long shot. Cat daddies, dog dopes, bird buddies, gerbil guys—they all were drawn, just like me, to see the queen of pet communications. Most had come for the show, but an elite few would go on to a special session with la Zoe, herself. Frannie and I were to be among those few.
Frannie also volunteered at Friends of Felines where we had met several years back. We had developed an instant rapport, though to this day I don’t know what she does when she’s not socializing stray cats, cleaning out litter boxes, and performing the many ordinary tasks that make a shelter run. We often got together for drinks after our shifts, her place or mine, but our chit-chat rarely veered far from the day’s work which both of us found to be infinitely interesting.
Frannie DeSoto is an amazing person. Though roughly my age, she has the air of a twenty-year-old. She is meticulous with hair and make-up, and whether she is volunteering at the shelter or attending a formal dinner, the platinum curls are always perfect, the bright pink lipstick never smudged or faded, and the nail gloss which invariably matches her whimsical eye shadow, sans chip or crack. I don’t have a clue how she does it. My look tends toward the opposite: hair springing into a mess of gray-red snarls the minute I walk out the salon door, and aside from a little lip color of a nondescript plum, I don’t wear make-up so that’s that.
After la Zoe’s introduction to Mindfulness and a short autobiographical narrative, the seer was scheduled to do actual readings from the audience. Everyone had brought a photograph or two in hopes of being chosen, and Frannie was one of the lucky ones. She was as excited as a kitten, which was cute to see on someone of retirement age. I was happy for her. She hadn’t had a cat for as long as I’d known her because her apartment building didn’t allow them, so the photo of the smiling tabby had to go back a ways. La Zoe claimed she could speak to the dead so it wouldn’t be a problem.
Frannie nudged me. “Teasel’s up next,” she whispered rapturously. “Finally la Zoe will be able to tell me how my baby’s doing up in Kitty Heaven.”
I nodded, examining the woman on stage into whom Frannie was pouring her utter faith. She was large, manly even, reminding me vaguely of Darcelle, the famous Portland female impersonator. The long, concealing robes were classic gold; the unnaturally red hair was piled on top her head like a raspberry ice cream cone. I quashed a surge of skepticism; after all, if I had wanted to be cynical about the presentation, I could have stayed home and saved myself a hundred bucks.
We waited patiently for the spiritualist to finish up her current reading, a heart-wrenching attempt to locate a lost dog. Though la Zoe had found the pup’s energy and could attest to the fact that he was alive, his thoughts told her little that would help with the rescue since the dog himself had no concept of where he was. Even la Zoe was helpless in this situation; the best she could do was to send calming thoughts and assurance that his family would never stop searching.
“I am sorry,” la Zoe said in a sonorous voice that could have belonged to James Earl Jones. “Your Max is out there. He is healthy but afraid. Do not give up hope.” She smiled broadly, a grin worthy of a Denobulan.
The couple who occupied the chairs next to the dais stood. Zoe handed the photograph to the man, then he and his wife shuffled somberly back to their seats among the audience.
The communicator took another picture from a neat pile on the little table next to her. “And now,” she drawled, “Teasel.”
She held the glossy page to her forehead for a moment—again I fought down the urge to scoff—then studied it intensely. “Ah. This one has crossed Beyond. Some time ago?” Her eyes grazed the room until they lit on Frannie. “Come up, my dear. Contacting those on the other side is always a bit bewildering for them. Teasel will need you close.”
Frannie rose and scooched down our row. Though no one would guess from her confident demeanor, I knew she was scared. We had talked in depth before the program about animal communication, specifically communication with the dead. At the time I hadn’t known she planned to submit her own passed puss for the reading. Now all those metaphysical debates, those half-formed thoughts, those dreams and nightmares we discussed made sense. Like myself, Frannie wasn’t sure people could actually commune with their dead pets, but I guess she figured it couldn’t hurt to try.
Frannie nodded a courtly hello to la Zoe, then sat down in the hot seat.
“I must have complete silence for this reading,” the seer announced. “This is the most difficult of all contact. The thread to the Beyond is tenuous. So much as a sigh and it can be broken, just like that!” She snapped her pudgy fingers.
The room hushed; everyone held their breath.
“Teasel,” the physic crooned.
The silence reverberated.
It dragged out into a void of forever.
Then, finally and with great satisfaction, la Zoe smiled.
“She is here!”
* * *
“Wow! That was amazing,” I said to Frannie as we sat in the lounge having a much-needed cup of coffee.
Frannie was silent.
“Are you okay?”
She nodded slowly. “I think about her all the time, you know. It’s been nine years since Teasel—what did la Zoe call it? Crossed Beyond?”
I took a sip of my coffee. It was strong and lip-burning, just the way I liked it. “What did you think of the reading?” I said carefully.
Frannie’s big eyes gleamed. “Everything she told us was right on. About the way Teasel meows when she yawns. And how she follows wherever I go. Followed,” she revised somberly. “I still miss her. Teasel was the reason I started volunteering at the shelter, you know.”
“She must be very proud of you.”
Frannie gave me a quizzical look. “You don’t think la Zoe was making it all up, do you?”
I paused. That was a tough one. Actually I still had my doubts, but Frannie was so happy to hear from her long-dead kit, I didn’t want to step on her high. I was saved from my dilemma by the clear ping of a prayer bell. It pinged two more times—the summons to la Zoe’s private session.
“Maybe we’re about to find out.”
* * *
We picked our way into a small conference room. A dozen chairs were arranged in a horseshoe with what had to be the queen’s throne, a particularly large office chair, occupying the gap. Frannie and I took seats, and I looked around for somewhere to put my stuff. Finally for lack of a better idea, I shoved my laptop and purse under the chair. I saw others coming to the same conclusion, stowing books and carryalls underneath, then awkwardly balancing computers, notebooks, or in some cases, old-fashioned pen and paper on their laps. I wondered at the lack of desks but had a feeling it was all part of the show.
A door opened on the far side of the room and in swept la Zoe. Her heavy robes rustled as she smiled and nodded to her much-diminished audience. Then without ado, she unzipped the front of her drape and shrugged out of the voluminous sleeves. Underneath she wore jeans and a Humane Society of the United States tee shirt, well worn, fading, with a few tiny holes at the hem. She undid the pins that held her red bird’s nest of hair and shook it out as if shaking of the regal persona.
“That is better,” she said, her deep, formal voice unchanged. “Now, are you ready to learn the secrets of life?”
There were titters and a cough.
“No, I am serious. Psychic communication is innate in all beings; it is merely locked away from our outward sight.” She paused and looked around the class expectantly.
“I don’t understand,” said a young woman.
“That is alright, you will. Put away your writing gear, you are not going to need it.”
There was the murmur of confusion, but eventually most everyone complied.
“Put away your pen, sir,” she told a young man who was holding on to the implement for dear life.
“But, ma’am,” he stuttered. “How am I supposed to take notes?”
“You will not be needing notes. Your heart will remember.”
“But… what if it doesn’t?” he persevered.
“Then it was not meant to be,” she flipped. “What I am about to tell you comes from inside. No amount of notation can help you if you cannot accept that.”
She bent down to reach into a banker’s box beside her chair and pulled out an oversized paperback book packaged in plastic. “But if you are still unclear at the end of the session, you may purchase my book for a nominal fee. I will autograph it for you.” Again she laughed. “Trust me, all will become clear once you begin to listen.”
As with her first session, she began with a meditation, then moved on to a deep breathing exercise and a game of toss where we worked with a partner—to clear our chakras, she told us. After we’d had a few laughs chasing neon Nerf balls around the conference room, we got down to business.
I can’t tell you the rest of what happened because, like the magician’s assistant, we were sworn to secrecy. I wondered about the analogy at the time. La Zoe was right about one thing though: we didn’t need to take notes. Everything that went on in that room that day is seared into my memory for life. I will never forget it, no matter how much I wish I could.