Midnight Louie is back!...along with the human the black tomcat condescends to spend his days with: Temple Barr, a redheaded publicist whose love for expensive shoes is matched only by her affinity for trouble.
This time trouble shows up on her doorstep, in the form of a boyfriend previously gone missing...during a murder investigation. No fool she, Temple decides it's time for a break. A romance writers' conventioncomplete with a male-model Incredible Hunk pageantsounds like just what the doctor ordered.
Unfortunately, a pair of dazzling Cinderella shoes goes missing, one of the would-be Fabios ends up dead, and Temple's investigations into the matters get more complicatedand more dangerousthan she planned.
Luckily, there's a smart and smart-mouthed cat prowling around.
Read an Excerpt
Return of the Native
Max Kinsella looked like a surreal figure lost in a garishly vacant Dali landscape. Temple couldn't believe her eyes.
Nor could her mind assemble several clear but alien impressions into a recognizable image…neon-storm, carnival-midway Hawaiian shirt. Oil-slick rainbow sunshades…dark, virtual-reality lenses locking the wearer into an intimated vast but hidden world. Height like the Eiffel Tower: familiar but looming larger than memory.
She was viewing not Max Kinsella, but Max Headroom, some berserk computer-image accident and traveling freak show. Kaleidoscopic Technicolor Hologram Man. Unreal, man. Unreal.
The seashore roared in Temple's ears. She sensed her own space, time and particular place in such sharp but distant clarity that it too had become a dislocated Dali landscape, seen but not felt. Not truly comprehended.
Well-corseted Victorian ladies, she guessed, would have swooned by now. The only buttressing piece of clothing holding Temple together at the moment was the soft sash of her martial arts gi, and it was no excuse for suffering an attack of the vapors.
She became aware of her bare feet planted on the fuzzy comfort of her fake goat-hair rug. At the same instant, she became even more alert to her hatred of ever being seen at such a childish disadvantage.
And then, despite the ludicrous shock of Max's reappearance, and his appearance, reality shattered her Technicolor daze like a fist smashing a stained-glass window.
She heard the eternal, prosaic hum of the air conditioner, and began to recognize again the bland familiarity of her domestic terrain. She even began to recall Max being as normal a part of this interior decor as she was. She began to believe he was there, as she still was. That this time it was really, really Max. That he was…alive.
A thrum of relief overrode numb disbelief.
Then another emotion came roaring out from the icebox of time-frozen emotions in which she had stored Max with the wistful care of someone preserving a prom-night corsage.
A muscular emotion, part fire and part tempered steel, it had a hot, coal-fire heart and a one-track mind. Its long-dampered engine began racing, chug-chugging with impatience, building up a head of steam in countertime to the shock-slowed beat of her heart.
The memory engine was gathering speed and sweeping her into its impetuous train. She saw the pasttheir pastglide by in stately panorama.
Meeting at the Guthrie Theatre. That night's magic showprestidigitation in the heart of darknessthe stage a velvet-black hole lit by the spotlights' cyclic fireworks. Walking beside the lamplight-dappled water in Loring Park in a lukewarm summer night. Leaving Minneapolis. Landing in Las Vegas so lost in each other they were like shell-shocked aliens on terra infirma.
Electra, the Circle Ritz, the Goliath and more magic shows in the dark, more days in the light, more nights in black satin and falling stars afloat on water.…Azure days, quicksilver nights.
Temple was now a mere passenger aboard the locomotive of her own emotions, drawn along by one particular, as-yet unnameable sensation. She leaned out the train window and tilted her head to read the passing sign: the town of Joy in the state of Disbelief. Utter, driving, unstoppable joy.
The train steamed forward, sure of itself, carving a path through space and time, back to the future, escaping the past and tearing into the present. Everything else slipped away like air. The engine was climbing the steepest grade of incredulity, penetrating the darkest tunnel of doubt, ready to huff and puff across the widest chasm of uncertainty, ready to overleap any chasm, whether a bridge stretched beneath it or not.…
"Max" Temple heard her voice whisper. You're alive, her mind shouted.
Max didn't seem to hear either his spoken name or her nameless emotions. Maybe the pistons of her joy were pounding too loudly. Then he spoke, too.
"Who's the blond?"
Temple frowned at words as indecipherable as vernacular Martian. Nonsense syllables. Why would Max speak gobbledegook at such a moment?
"You're alive," she whispered, still lagging behind real time.
Who's the blond? What blond? Some woman he wanted to saw in half, some blonde magician's assistant? Christie Brinkley? Huh?
Then the present reasserted itself in flash cards of detail. Temple saw herself passing through the past twenty-four hours as if watching a secret videotape of her every movement. Then she understood.
The parquet floor of her apartment shuddered and became so solid it hurt. Sunlight lancing through the open French door that framed Max's bizarre silhouette made her eyes water.
Her train of joy derailed with a sickening crash, a jack-knifing, twisting tangle of each car in its long train. Passengers named Trust and Hope and Love were cast out upon the surreal countryside like so many dice gone awry.
Yet everything collapsed in slow motion, like all disasters both physical and psychic. She had one split second to mourn the ruined scene, to count the dead and to inspect the walking wounded, particularly herself. Then her strange travelog of emotion ended with her at home.
She studied Max's Technicolor facade, knowing the man behind it, inside it, and not knowing him at all. With one cold question, he had cast himself again into the farthest, protective deep freeze of her emotions. Fresh damage smashed Temple's train wreck of joy into smaller pieces. His words, so distant, so judging, struck her heart to the hilt, a long, Arthurian sword thrust so deep it might never be drawn out. If only she were stone…
A new emotion surfaced through an ocean of hurt, and it struck back.
"Are your eyes really green?" she said, just as flatly.
So there they stood, after all this time, asking idiot questions that could only be answered with anger and self-justification.
Max stood unmoving, as he in turn struggled to decode her remark. Then he took off his sunglasses, folded and hung them from the dreadful shirt's breast pocket.
His eyes were still green, Temple saw, but were they really? He wasn't saying, was he? Just showing. Magicians were very good at dodging the issues, any issue. They would show, but not tell.
"You've been watching me," she said. Accused.
"Had to. For your sake as well as mine."
Her theatrical ear listened for the trace of a brogue, and the sword in her heart (stupid but inescapable cliche) twisted. Trust was in terminal condition and growing weaker every second. Hope was declared dead. Love was in a coma and would probably linger there for life, such as it was.
Still, "your sake" implied something.
"Max!" She shoved her fingers into her hair.
He put a shushing finger to his lips, his (maybe green) eyes warning silence.
She glanced quickly around the room. Was it bugged?
Max, reading her concern, shook his head. "No one's listening to us but us, and that's two too many."
He moved further into the room, in a smooth big-cat glide meant to soothe. Max had the seamless, gravity-defying, sight-deceiving motion of a master mime. He stopped four feet away, behind the sofa.
Who? Temple was still moving in four-four time in a sixteenth-note world. She followed Max's feline-green glance to the sofa seat.
"A stray cat I found at the Convention Center."
Max extended a cautious arm, the dark hairs on it gleaming as satin as Louie's well-licked coat. His fingers stroked Louie's head.
The cat growled, deep and long.
Max didn't jerk his hand away, as most people would. "He likes it here."
"Why shouldn't he? He gets food and affection, and comes and goes as he pleases."
An awkward silence prevailed, as certain personal parallels were drawn by both parties.
Max stepped cautiously around the sofa, nodding at Temple. "That's something new."
"My gi?" Goodness, she sounded casual, Temple thought. She lifted a tail of the flour-sack-pale sash. "I'm learning self-defense." Studying the yet-alien garb, she added, "Matt's my teacher."
How easily Max had moved from direct route to circuitous, just like a cat mincing around a foreign object. Here she was answering his very first question, whether she wanted to or not. Who's the blond? "Matt Devine. New neighbor."
"Self-defense is an admirable art." Max was noncommittal. He smiled then, that Max smile that could charm china birds off jade-bejeweled trees. "But I don't think that outfit does you justice."
Temple's shoulders dropped as her eyes winced shut. "In other words, I look like Dopey the dwarf."
In that unguarded instant, Max took his opening. Temple heard nothing, no movement. Yet she felt his hands under her elbows, then he was lifting her up, as before, until her face was level with his. Temple forced herself not to wince again.
He lifted her higher this time, so she was looking down on him, as if they were in bed. She stared into his hypnotically green eyeswarm, amused, probingand their traitorous color stopped her cold again.
"You look adorable," he said. "You always underestimate yourself, Temple." His light tone changed. "Don't underestimate me."
The betraying, inevitable tears hung like isinglass curtains before her vision, frozen from falling.
"I can't say."
"Then why do you expect me to spill my guts?"
He lowered her to the floor so swiftly she felt she'd been on a carnival ride. "I have a lot of unreasonable expectations." He looked around. Temple was shocked to see that his hair had grown so long it was gathered into a pony tail. "Like expecting things to stay the same. But they don't, do they?"
"Some things do." Like her hairstyle. "Look, why don't we start over, sit down and talk?"
"Aren't you expected somewhere?" He eyed the gi.
"This." She tightened the sash as if wringing her hands instead of cotton ties. "I'll run down and say that something came up."
Max grinned. "Considering my method of arrival, that's not only apt, but precisely truthful."
"You climbed up the outside? Like Louie? Why?"
"The cat climbs up the outside, too?" Max glanced at the animal, not necessarily pleased to note a similarity. "I imagine we slink around for the same reasons."
"Hunting?" Temple asked.
"Or hiding." Max reached for the sunglasses again. "But don't call off your lesson. I'll come down and watch."
"Max, no! I'd feel…dumb. And if you are hiding"
"Not too seriously at the moment, or I wouldn't be here."
Temple shook her head. "At least explain the Easter-egg shirt."
"Authentic fifties-vintage Goodwill."
"I know what it is, I want to know why you're wearing it."
"Why? Can't you tell? Naked isn't the best disguise, Temple. In Las Vegas, loud is."
She couldn't help laughing, which was better than crying. Trying to convince Max not to go where he was not wanted was always hopeless. She shrugged, picked up her keys and her sunglasses and left the apartment.
Max followed, on silent cat feet.
Her last glimpse of Midnight Louie showed that he remained sprawled like a sultan on her sofa, but his eyes were narrowed, both possessive…and suspicious.
Copyright © 1996 by Carole Nelson Douglas
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another fun romp for Louie and Temple. Picking up where we left off in Crimson Haze Max is back....at least for a bit. While Max and Matt preen in front of each other Temple decides to take a small vacation with Electra by attending a romance novel convention. Of course we have at least one dead body and plenty of suspects. Lots and lots of fun.
Good read. Nice mystery with a cast of memorable characters. Great series. I would suggest starting at the beginning to get the full enjoyment.