Authors: Nancy C. Davis
Tags: #Amateur Sleuth, #cats, #cozy mystery, #woman sleuth, #mysteries, #detective, #cat
Nancy C. Davis
©2015 Nancy C. Davis
Vanessa Abbot scratched Flossy under the chin and made her way through the Opportunity Shop. She let down the blinds and turned off the lights. When she came to the bookshelves, she found Henry in his favorite box of torrid romances. She ran her fingertips down his back and he arched and purred.
“Don’t stay up too late reading,” she told him. “You’ll ruin your eyes.”
He blinked his bright yellow eyes and stretched out again. Vanessa moved on and returned to the front desk. She opened the cash register with her key and empties the bills into a paper envelope. Then she locked up the drawer and took her handbag from under the counter.
She paused at the front door to slip the envelope into her handbag. AngelPie twisted her tail and body through the electronics on the shelf next to the light switch. She mewed at Vanessa. Vanessa rubbed her chest and head, and then flicked the light off.
“I’m just going down to the bank to deposit the cash. I’ll be back in a minute, and then we’ll go upstairs and eat our dinner. You hold down the fort.”
The bells jangled when she pushed the door open, and AngelPie disappeared into the darkness. Vanessa locked the door behind her. Above the Opportunity shop sign, bright orange letters read “Hamilton County Cat Protection League”. She looked at her reflection in the shop window. Her plain brown hair with its first hint of grey stretched back from her face into a neat knot. Her tan overcoat covered her clothes, and her leather shoes clicked against the sidewalk when she walked. No one would notice an aging cat lady hurrying down the street.
The overcast evening hung heavy over the little town of Caspar Crossing. Autumn cold settled over the town and into Vanessa’s bones. She looked forward to returning home and curling up with her cats in front of the fire.
Of course, they weren’t really
cats. But they might as well be. She took care of them, fed cared for and pampered them. Whenever the Cat Protection League took in a neglected or abused cat, they always came to live with Vanessa in her apartment at the Opportunity Shop. The League’s monthly bulletin listed Vanessa Abbot as President, but in reality, she
the Cat Protection League. She manned the Shop every day, took care of the cats, and she managed all of the League business.
She bustled down the damp streets to the bank. Her hand went to her bag more than once, but she made sure she didn’t take out the envelope until she actually got into the line in front of the teller. Five other people stood in line, and they all turned around and greeted her when she arrived.
“Nice night isn’t it, Vanessa?” said Ollie Fleetwood, the local plumber. He still wore his stained work pants and his plaid flannel shirt.
Vanessa shuddered. “It’s ghastly.”
“Just wait until winter,” added Alfred Botchweather, the barber. “If you think this is bad, just wait until you’re wading through six inches of snow. Then you’ll really have something to complain about.”
“I don’t mind snow,” Vanessa replied. “I can handle snow much better than grey and damp. For some reason, it doesn’t chill me as much. Then when the sun comes out and shines on the snow—well! It’s lovely. I love going out in weather like that.”
A bright young woman with flowing auburn hair and bright brown eyes turned around in the line. “I agree with Vanessa. Give me snow any day of the week. You can keep your rain and gloom to yourself. Of course, I wouldn’t shake a stick at spring, either.”
“Oh, sure,” the fifth man chimed in. “Listen to Penny Cartwright. Sure, you love spring the best. You’re a wedding planner. That’s the time of year you get the most business. Now take me, for instance. I’m a doctor. I get all my business in the winter, when people are sick.”
“Shame on you, Walter Connelly,” Vanessa scolded. “Shame on you for profiting from other people’s sickness. You should be working harder to keep them healthy.”
“Me, work harder to keep them healthy?” Walter snorted. “Believe me, Vanessa. No one in this town works harder than I do to keep people healthy. I work a lot harder to keep them healthy than they do for themselves. You can take my word on that.”
“Still,” Vanessa replied. “You don’t have to gloat over the fact that you make the most money during the season when people get sick the most. I swear, you’re like a walking Angel of Death.”
Walter drew himself up and opened his mouth to reply, but he never got the chance. A deafening crash shook the granite edifice of the bank. Vanessa cried out in fright, and Penny jumped a foot in the air. When she landed on her feet again, she clutched her heart and panted in shock.
“What was that?” Walter bellowed.
“Look!” Ollie pointed toward the front window of the bank. “That truck crashed into the power pole.”
“It’s not a truck,” Alfred remarked. “It’s a bus. It looks like about fifteen people are inside, not counting the driver.”
They all crowded around the window to have a closer look. “What’s the matter with you, Walter?” Vanessa demanded. “Why don’t you get out there and help those poor people?”
Walter stiffened. “I’m a general practitioner. I’m not qualified to intervene in an emergency situation.”
“You're supposed to help people,” Vanessa argued. “You can't just leave them there in distress.”
“Look.” Walter pointed. “There’s a power line down, and it’s crossing the accident scene. It just wouldn’t be safe to go out there right now. Oh, look. Here comes the ambulance and fire truck. They’ll handle this.”
“You clod,” Penny muttered. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“You should talk,” Walter shot back. “You don’t have to deal with sick and injured people every day. I know my place in society. The emergency people handle this. I deal with earaches and diabetes, not car crashes.”
They watched the fire personnel and paramedics scurrying around the accident. They pulled people out of the bus and shuttled them to waiting ambulances. Vanessa sighed and leaned back from the window. Her hand went to her bag for the envelope. The cats would be waiting for their dinner. She couldn’t hang around the bank much longer.
She took one step to turn around when another sound made the whole group jump back around the other way. This wasn’t the ear-splitting crash of broken glass and twisted metal, though. This was a hollow thump, and when they turned around, they found Alfred stretched out at their feet. He lay on his stomach with his head turned to one side as if he’d fallen asleep on the floor of the bank. Only one thing gave any evidence that he wasn’t asleep. A knife stuck out of his back, and a dark wet stain spread into the fabric of his shirt from the corners of the wound.
Vanessa gasped and covered her mouth with her hand.
Ollie set his fists on his hips. “Well, this is a fine kettle of fish!”
A sob came from Penny’s throat. “Oh, my gosh! Now what are we going to do?”
Walter stiffened again. “Well, don’t look at me. This is definitely not my specialty.”
Ollie glared at him. “Don’t worry, Walter. None of us standing here expects you to do anything.”
Walter frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Will you two stop that?” Vanessa snapped. “We’ve got a serious situation here. There’s a man lying dead in front of us, and one of us is his killer.”
They glanced at each other. “How do you know he’s dead?” Ollie asked. “Shouldn’t one of us check his pulse or start CPR or something?”
“Well, don’t look at me,” Walter thundered.
“Will you shut up, Walter?” Penny screeched. “No one expects you to do anything. We all know you’re useless in a crisis.”
Walter opened his mouth, but then he shut it again.
“He couldn’t have died, just like that,” Ollie exclaimed. “He was standing next to us just a minute ago.”
“I know what I'll do,” Vanessa exclaimed. “I’ll go get one of the ambulance personnel. They’ll know what to do about this.”
She hurried outside. Depositing the cash from the Opportunity Shop would just have to wait. Dealing with a barber with a knife in his back could take a while. The cats would be climbing the walls when she got home. She raced out of the bank, but when she got to the sidewalk, she slowed down. She didn't dare approach the accident scene, not with all that broken glass and the tow truck trying to maneuver into position.
She skirted around to the ambulances. Medics, firefighters and police officers scurried in all directions. Not one of them gave her a second glance. They were too busy guiding the bus passengers over to the ambulances, wrapping them in blankets, and tending to their wounds.
Vanessa watched for a moment. What should she do? These people needed the paramedics’ attention a lot more than she and her friends in the bank did. She almost turned around and walked away when her eye fell on a man standing some distance away. He wore a tweed jacket and blue jeans. His shoulders filled out his jacket nicely, and his long legs ended in polished cowboy boots. His black hair curled away from his face and ears. She couldn’t see what color his eyes were. He scribbled in a notebook with a ball-point pen.
Vanessa would have thought he was a reporter, except that a name badge flashed from his lapel pocket. She looked closer and saw a silver star hanging next to it. She walked over to him. “Excuse me. I hate to interrupt.”
He didn’t look up. “What is it?”
“Are you a police officer?” she asked. “If you are, I need your help.”
He looked up then, and his black eyes flashed when they met hers.
“What do you need help with?”
She glanced down at the badge. Yes, he was definitely some kind of law enforcement officer, though she couldn’t make out the fine print on his badge without her reading glasses. Only the bold block letters at the top stood out clearly enough for her to read:
Detective Sargent Peter Wheeler.
She looked back up at his face. “You see, I was over in the bank when the bus crashed. A bunch of us were waiting in line, waiting for the teller. We’ve been watching the accident scene through the window.”
He raised one eyebrow. “Uh-huh.”
She passed the back of her hand over her eyes. “You see, we were standing there watching, and Alfred Botchweather, the barber, fell down onto the ground. He’s lying there right now.”
His eyes widened. “Did you come over here to tell me that the barber fell down? Is that what you want me to help you with?”
She shook her head, but it didn’t help to clear her thoughts. “No, no. It’s not that. You see, he fell down, and he had a knife sticking out of his back. He’s lying there right now. We didn’t know what to do, so I said I’d come out here and get one of the ambulance people. But they all seem to be busy just now.”
He stared at her. Then he spoke with extreme care. “Are you telling me that there’s a man lying on the floor over there in the bank with a knife sticking out of his back? Is that what you’re telling me?”
Vanessa burst into a radiant smile. “Yes. That’s it. Perfect. I knew you’d understand.”
He folded up his notebook and shoved it into the inside pocket of his jacket. When he looked back at Vanessa, all the sparkly charm had vanished from his face. Vanessa wilted. “Show me,” he snapped.