And just to make things interesting, while Louie and his furred cohorts battle black magic, both human and not-so-human, Louie's cherished roommate, plucky PR freelancer Temple Barr, is investigating the murderous side of the Synth despite the intense discouragement of female homicide lieutenant C. R. Molina. Molina herself is secretly moonlighting as an undercover operative to nail the killer of a sad, young stripper, and the search has boiled down to two suspects: Temple's current significant other, Max Kinsella, and Molina's long-gone ex-lover, Raf Nadir. Unfortunately, proving either man guilty will seriously impact the lives of Molina and her daughter, Mariah.
As Louie and his human friends sink deeper into a lose-lose situation of crime and punishment, there doesn't seem to be any way out of this escalating crisis, except another murder.
Can Louie solve some nagging past mysteries, find out just what some mad magicians have in store and stop the stripper killer before he claims another victim? And what will Louie do if he finds that the killer is someone Louie knows . . . and likes?
Author Biography: CAROLE NELSON DOUGLAS is the author of the bestselling Midnight Louie series, which include Cat in a Leopard Spot, Cat in a Kiwi Con, Cat in a Jeweled Jumpsuit, and many more. She is also the author of the historical mystery series featuring Irene Adler, the only woman ever to have "outwitted" Sherlock Holmes. She resides in Fort Worth, Texas.
About the Author
Carole Nelson Douglas is the award–winning author of the bestselling Midnight Louie series, which includes her latest Midnight Louie offerings: Cat in a Neon Nightmare, Cat in a Midnight Choir, and Cat in a Leopard Spot. She is also the author of the historical suspense series featuring Irene Adler, the only woman to ever outwit Sherlock Holmes. She resides in Fort Worth, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
Cat in a Midnight Choir
A Midnight Louie Mystery
By Carole Nelson Douglas, Claire Eddy
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2002 Carole Nelson Douglas
All rights reserved.
The drawing seemed like child's play.
Done by a preschool child.
A preschool child lacking any art talent.
Temple frowned at her own handiwork.
She had never had much drawing skill, but one would think a grown woman could do better than this.
One would think, for that matter, that a participant in an alleged ritual murder could do better than this.
The thought unleashed a montage of memory-pictures. Actual crime-scene photos flared in her mind's eye again like psychic flashcards wielded by a female homicide lieutenant who went by the name of C. R. Molina. All homicide lieutenants needed a sadistic streak, Temple mused. You didn't provoke betraying reactions by walking softly and carrying a sharp nail file. Not that Molina had fingernails long enough to file.
Temple shut her eyes against the vivid memories of a death scene and pictured the site when she had last seen Jeff Mangel alive in it: a bland classroom in a bland, boxy University of Nevada at Las Vegas building. Jeff had converted the uninspiring space into a small exhibition, mostly of posters framed in freestanding ranks like pages in a gigantic book.
With the painted paper eyes of Houdini, Blackstone, Copperfield, and Gandolph the Great looking on, the professor enchanted by magic had met a brutal death amid the paraphernalia of kinky sex. The weapon had been a custom-designed ritual blade.
Underneath it all lay the five crude lines drawn in blood on the floor, that had boxed in Jeff's body like a symbolic fence.
Those bloody lines had to mean something, perhaps both more and less than the crude attempts to invoke cults and sexual extremes had.
Temple had started this Sunday afternoon homework project because she'd promised Max that she'd try to find out what the strange shape represented, if anything. Thanks to her exposure to a cadre of mediums and psychics the previous Halloween, he now considered her an expert on the mantic arts.
Public relations people had to be quick studies, and since Temple had moved from TV journalism to fine arts public relations to the far less fine art of freelance PR in Las Vegas, she had become even better at being a jill of all trades. But an artist she was not.
She stared at the five rough lines linked into the askew shape of a house drawn by a three-year-old. Or ... a rather clumsy bell.
Her sketch had been jotted down on the back of a flimsy restaurant receipt she'd found in her tote bag when Max had broken into the crime scene to show her the bizarre props littering it. The sketch would have fit on the palm of her hand.
In reality, in life, in death ... it had been drawn on a vinyl tile floor in great sweeping strokes, large enough to encompass a dead body.
Had it been drawn before, or after, Jefferson Mangel had bled and breathed his last on the floor of his small exhibit room of magic show posters and paraphernalia?
Temple shivered a little, though it was a lovely spring afternoon. Las Vegas springs and falls could be numbered by days. This day was one where the bountiful sunlight poured through the French doors into her home office until the room seemed made of bottled radiance. Even shadows were lazy, innocent sketches on the warm, inadvertent canvas of her wood parquet floor. The room contained nothing sinister, except her thoughts ...
... and the drawing from a killing ground ...
... and something sinuous and black that brushed the sun-drenched floor as if keeping slow-motion time.
"Louie?" She stood and leaned over the width of the desktop, an oak slab with a tight grain streaked like honey blond hair.
Only by leaning to the point of teetering could a woman as short as Temple see the owner of the serpentine tail, a huge black cat sunning himself in the hottest, purest pool of sunlight in the room.
"I'll thank you not to waggle that tail around. It looks too much like a desert snake that crawled in."
The cat's green eyes, slitted almost shut, angled open while its ears flattened. Midnight Louie did not take kindly to criticism. At twenty-plus pounds of muscular alley cat, he didn't have to.
His balefully still image sank like a black sun behind the desk's horizon line as Temple sat down again. She could hear the grumpy metronome of an insulted tail thumping the parquet.
"This is a workroom," she pointed out to no one in particular.
And maybe she was a little grumpy herself this morning, because her only roommate was a cat.
She pulled the gigantic mug that held hazelnut-flavored nonfat creamer diluted with gourmet coffee close enough to lift and sipped, slitting her eyes at the drawing again.
It had to mean something.
She needed to enlarge it, think in bigger terms.
Temple picked up the ruler and pencil and duplicated the figure at several times its original size on an eleven-by-seventeen sheet of blank paper.
The peaked "roof" was obviously the top, but why was the bottom foundation line slightly angled? An accident of freehand drawing, or intentional? And none of the four paired lines exactly matched, which was what gave the image its childishly askew look.
"It doesn't have to be a house," she muttered as she set down her implements and took up her coffee mug again. She would never admit that she was talking to Louie. "It could be a window. A Gothic window with a peaked arch. Like a church!"
Now that image was interesting. It brought to mind another murder of another person connected to the world of magic and magicians, as Professor Mangel had been: Gloria Fuentes, the late Great Gandolph's now late ex-magician's assistant.
"Arghgghgh!" Temple ran her red-enameled fingernails into her naturally wavy, coppery hair.
The source of her frustration wasn't just Professor Mangel's death, circumscribed by a crude outline, it was a lot of unsolved murders over the past year or more, all tangential to her life and the lives of those she knew.
She pulled a fresh sheet of large paper over the puzzling image and grabbed the ruler as if she intended to admonish someone with it: herself.
But her cri de coeur had disturbed the native.
Midnight Louie leaped with surprising grace atop the desk. He sniffed the contents of her mug until his dashing white whiskers twitched, then lay down on the edges of all her papers and began bathing his right forefoot.
"There have been too many unsolved deaths in this town for too long," she told him.
Louie took this declaration stoically, and switched to licking his other forefoot.
He may have been thinking, but Temple thought not. She did not tend to lick her toes when thinking, although she had been known to wet her lips.
At least she was drawing straight lines now. The ruler moved down the page inch by inch as she underlined it with pencil, dark and emphatic.
Louie stretched out a damp paw to follow her progress. Temple wasn't sure whether he was playing or putting his own stamp of approval on the form taking shape on the paper.
She might not be able to draw a decent stick figure in a game of Hangman, but she could trace straight lines to infinity.
Temple swooped the page around in a forty-five-degree turn and began drawing another series of lines crossways to the first.
"This is a table, Louie," she explained as the cat continued giving encouraging pats — or playful bats (with Louie it was so hard to tell when he was just being a cat, or was being just a cat) — as he supervised her progress down the page.
"There!" Temple spun the page around again. "I am going to list every mysterious death that I know of for the past year. Seeing it laid out in black and white ought to make something clear."
Temple leaned back to study her handiwork. It seemed that the last year had not showered pennies from heaven on Las Vegas casinos, but dead bodies. Parking lots came in second as a hot crime scene. Magic was a thread linking four of the victims, including the last three.
Louie lashed out a paw and, with what passed for retractable thumb tacks on his forefoot, drew the drawing closer to him. He actually appeared to study the layout for a moment with the usual feline solemnity, but immediately after rolled over on the paper and wiggled luxuriously, creasing wrinkles into Temple's crisp recto-linear design.
"Off, off, damn ... Spot!"
Temple's expletives often displayed her years doing PR for the Tyrone Guthrie repertory theater in Minneapolis.
Louie did not heed Shakespearian admonitions. He didn't heed admonitions, period. He rolled onto his back, putting his curled limbs into what Temple called the Dead Bug position (well, Louie was jet black), the one that cats everywhere from Peekaboo the comic strip cat to Leo the Lion considered the safe-at-home, leave-me-alone position: Home Alone, for short. In other words, meddle with the cat sprawled helplessly on its back at your own peril.
Temple decided she was in no hurry to reclaim her paper and reached instead for the cell phone headset on her desk. The headset left her hands free to take notes while on the phone, which she had to do frequently, and also preserved her from possible cancer of the ear, eye, nose, throat, and, most creepily, brain.
She punched the autodial number for Max's cell phone.
Meanwhile, Louie twisted his torso in two different directions at once and took total possession of the papers on her desk.
"What's up?" Max's voice answered.
"Louie's legs. In the air. All four."
"That doesn't sound like a phenomenon worth reporting."
"It's the paper he's lying on that's interesting."
"The Sunday paper?"
"No. The list I just made of all the unsolved murders hanging over us ... some of them quite literally. It's rather interesting when you spell it out in black and white. Thought you might want to see it. I also have an enlarged version of that crude symbol painted around poor Jeff's body."
Temple's glance fell on the small, crumpled, pale green receipt on which she had first drawn the palm-sized version of the symbol.
"Max," she went on suddenly, "isn't there some tradition relating to a five-sided figure, a pentagram, as a sign of evil?"
"If you're talking Universal Pictures from the forties, then yeah."
"I thought so! But I can't remember what. It isn't Dracula —"
"No way would he dirty his palms with pentagrams. Can't you remember?"
"No! That's why I'm asking you."
"So you think a werewolf is involved?"
"No, but somebody might want us to think so."
"So we'd look even more ridiculous to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department?"
"A lot of the victims are people involved professionally in magic."
"That doesn't make them consorters with werewolves, Temple, m'dear. In fact, just the opposite. The magic professional despises any intimations of the weird or paranormal surrounding the art. We are illusionists. We create mysteries for others. We don't cherish any illusions ourselves."
"Hah! Shows what you know about your own self, Mr. Mystifying Max. Don't worry. I'd never suspect you of being a werewolf. No, you've got to be a vampire: shuttered windows, night person, wears black."
"Just to prove you wrong I'll pick up a pizza with garlic on the way over."
After she disconnected the phone, Temple wondered how to kill time. Max wouldn't take long to get there. Las Vegas boasted almost as many great pizza places as it did wedding chapels.
Midnight Louie had abandoned his tummy-up position and hit the hardwood floor with a thump. He stalked over to the French doors and gazed out on Temple's second-floor patio. Most people would assume the big black cat was watching for birds, but Temple understood that he was watching for Max.
Somehow Louie always knew when his predecessor in the role of roommate was coming over. Temple had never owned a cat before she had found Louie running loose in the exhibition hall of the convention center a year ago, and also had stumbled over, literally, her first murder victim. She hadn't realized yet that the verb "owning" was wishful thinking when it came to cats.
If anything, Louie owned her, and often acted like it.
Now that he was absorbed with guard duty, Temple pulled the papers back toward her, smoothing any wrinkles Louie had pressed into them.
She paused, realizing that Louie's maneuvers had left the strange figure upside down. And it looked weirdly familiar in that position. Not like something you saw every day, certainly, but like something. Some similar conjunction of crude lines she had seen. Somewhere.
Great! She would be the Queen of Vague when she trotted this sketch around desperately seeking a definition for it.
Movement in the sun-dappled room suddenly caught her eye: Louie trotting swiftly into the main room.
He seldom troubled to move faster than necessary, so Temple jumped up to follow the cat.
She hadn't heard a thing, but Max had materialized in the living room like the imposing magician he was, six-feet-four, lean and all in black from hair to toe except for the white-and-red cardboard pizza box he held before him like a tray.
"Not climbing the balcony today?" she asked, referring to his usual second-story-man approach.
"Didn't want the pepperoni to slide off the mozzarella. Vertical ascensions don't suit pizzas."
Temple was already rooting in the hip-pocket kitchen's cupboards and drawers for plates, knives, and napkins. Fingers would do for the rest.
"Are you still worried about being seen here?"
"Now more than ever," he answered fervently.
She saw that he was serious. "Why?"
"The forces of evil seem to be gathering."
"Of evil? Or crime?"
"I think it's just outright evil, but crime trails after evil like a kid brother trying to keep up."
"Evil. The Synth?"
Max pulled a triangular piece from the precut slab of crust, cholesterol, and tomato sauce as red as blood.
Eating it allowed him to mull his answer. "I started thinking about who would be in the Synth. I know or know of most of the professional magicians around. I can't see any of them being seriously irritated by the Cloaked Conjurer. At that level, they're institutions. Everybody knows they're trickmeisters, and their level of trick is not what CC is exposing. He blows the whistle on dated stuff; illusions we've all had to reinvent or forget. So the Synth —"
"Has to be 'nothing but a bunch of bloody amateurs!'" Temple declaimed in a thundering British accent.
"'Bloody' may be eerily appropriate. Where'd you come up with that quote?"
"Spoken by the late great Tyrone Guthrie, the British director who founded a repertory company in the American Midwest, my alma mater in Minneapolis, after trying to coax a professional performance of Oedipus Rex out of some college-level theater students as a demonstration. He burst out with that sentence. It became a catch phrase around his namesake theater forever."
"I'm afraid we're 'a bunch of bloody amateurs' in the face of what's really going on here. Which is why I brought this."
Max reached into his pocket to pull out an object.
Temple was so stunned at the directness of the gesture — usually an ex-magician like Max couldn't resist producing physical objects out of thin air — that she stared at him instead of it for a moment.
The overhead kitchen fluorescent light cast an admittedly harsh shadow, but Max's lean face looked hollow instead of sleek. Temple saw strain in the taut tilt of his eyes, and he looked tired. No, dispirited.
"We never had time to go to the firing range," he was saying, regretfully.
"Ah, you did notice my extremely awkward relationship with firearms out at the Rancho Exotica? I'm better off unarmed."
"I don't like guns either. This is just pepper spray. You have to snap the cover open and move the spray head out of the guarded position. Then press away."
Temple curled her fingers around the molded edge of the leatherette carrying case, unsnapped the flap, and rotated the little white plastic nozzle into the armed position. It looked like a key chain giveaway, or something kids in a kinder, gentler time used to send for through the mail from ads at the back of comic books.
"You sure it doesn't double as a decoder ring?" she quipped.
"No, it just sprays very hot pepper. Be careful not to let any get in your eyes if you have to use it. Works against mad dogs, and Englishmen too."
She glanced at Midnight Louie, looking natty as a rug on the black-and-white-tiled floor. He was dispatching a pepperoni circle that Max had slipped to him.
"Who am I supposed to be using it against?" Temple asked. "Besides mad dogs and Englishmen?"
"Whoever chased you with the car at TitaniCon. Who-ever was getting pushy with your entire party at the convention. I don't know who, but you will if he/she/it/they ever have you cornered."
"Yeah." Temple kept silent to chew on pizza and a scene from the past: a parking garage, two strange men, blows, pain, humiliation, fear. She glanced at the petite pepper spray. Would that have helped her then? Only if she carried it where it was instantly accessible.
"And," Max said, not quite meeting her eyes, "it wouldn't hurt to put Matt Devine on your distant acquaintance list, since he seemed to be the main target at TitaniCon."
"Yeah, well ..." Temple swallowed too much pizza too fast and almost choked. "The way he's been acting lately, that won't be a problem. Is something going on I should know about?"
"Nothing concrete." Max expelled a huff of frustrated breath. He got busy inhaling more pizza. "Never hurts to be cautious," he said finally.
Excerpted from Cat in a Midnight Choir by Carole Nelson Douglas, Claire Eddy. Copyright © 2002 Carole Nelson Douglas. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Midnight Louis just keeps getting better and better with each addition to the series. As the characters grow and the mysteries get even more sinister, Louis is there to keep us informed on his take of the situation with his Sam Spade style and charm. Always a pleasure to curl up with a Midnight Louis book!