When the fur starts flying, Cassie McGlone, owner of Cassie’s Comfy Cats, handles her feistiest four-legged clients with a caring touch and nerves of steel. While these qualities certainly help keep her business purring, they also come in handy when she makes a house call to her best client, millionaire George DeLeuw, and discovers his murdered body next to his newly orphaned Persian, Harpo. A cat whisperer like Cassie might be able to coax out some important clues from Harpo, but she needs to tread lightly and remember she gets one life, not nine. . . .
“Fans of felines will appreciate Cassie’s demonstrated attachment to the master species, which Watkins successfully integrates throughout her debut, a deft blend of mystery and cat love.”
“A promising start to a new cozy series. And the information the author provides about cats is fascinating.”
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 4.90(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Lauren Ezzo was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan. She attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan, where she double majored in theatre and English. She works both on stage and as an audiobook narrator.
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The orange tabby crouched on my stainless-steel table and hissed like a rattlesnake poised to strike.
"Yipes!" Sarah Wilcox, at my side, jumped back a step.
I worried. Would the sixtyish little woman lose her nerve?
I sure hoped not. I urgently needed her help, and so far I'd already eliminated three other candidates, all younger and faster on their feet. But with Sarah's background in the trenches, I thought she might have the necessary nerves of steel and cool head under pressure.
Professional cat grooming is not a job for ... well, pussies.
"Mango, behave!" I scolded the tabby. Then I told Sarah, "With a resistant cat like this one, I generally use a grooming harness." I held up the thin webbing straps to show how they should fasten around the animal. "You just slip the kitty's head through this loop"— I worked quickly so "the kitty" didn't have a chance to sink his fangs into my hand —"pass this part under his elbow, and snap it together at the top."
Mango tried to bolt, but now I had a leash on him. He finally gave up and hunkered down on the table, still lashing his tail.
Sarah chuckled nervously. "You did that very well, Cassie!" "I've had a lot of practice. But don't worry — we'll be working together, so most of the time I can do the tricky stuff. You'll just need to back me up."
I demonstrated how to start grooming with a natural-bristle brush to get any mats out of the cat's fur, and follow up with a slicker brush to smooth the coat and bring out the sheen. "Of course, Mango's got short hair and he's pretty clean. A lot of the cats I work on have long hair or have gotten into something messy. Sometimes the local shelter even sends over a feral that they want to put up for adoption."
Sarah dared to brush Mango's striped head, and I held my breath, hoping he wouldn't turn on her. Maybe because she was older than my own mom, I felt extra protective. But her stroking must have felt good, because the tabby finally relaxed and even half closed his eyes.
"He was just scared, weren't you, pretty boy?" she cooed.
This little woman with the coffee-brown skin and salt-and-pepper curls had totally mellowed Mango out. I might finally have a winner!
I glanced at my wall clock, which was rimmed with black paw prints instead of numbers. I'd hoped to schedule Sarah's interview earlier in the day, but she'd been tied up until two. I'd have to move things along to make my biweekly visit to George DeLeuw's house.
I needed to keep him as a customer ... but I also needed an assistant. And Sarah seemed the likeliest candidate so far.
"Is this cat a feral?" she asked me now.
"Not really, but he was a rescue. Mango's one of my own cats." I smiled at her surprise. "He just hates to be groomed, which makes him good for demos. I'll need your help most when I work with the bigger breeds. In school, I once had to shave a twenty-five-pound Maine Coon, and it took three of us just to keep her on the table."
"Wow, hope I'm up to that." Her dark eyes twinkled behind wire-rimmed glasses. "Though I did teach high school math for more than twenty years."
I laughed. "You told me on the phone. If you survived that, I'm sure you can handle a few cranky felines."
As I freed Mango and let him jump off the table, Sarah asked, "You said you went to school for this?"
"Yep, I'm a certified groomer and animal behaviorist." I nodded toward a framed document that hung above a row of white metal storage cabinets.
By now I'd gotten used to people scoffing at my degree and line of work, but again Sarah surprised me. "There's actually a school that teaches you how to understand animals? Isn't that wonderful! Most people never go to the trouble to learn."
"I also have a BA in regular psychology, which sometimes helps in dealing with the owners."
"I'll bet!" She laughed.
Sarah also didn't seem like the type to turn up her nose at my state college credentials. I considered not only hiring her, but doubling the hourly rate I'd planned to offer. "C'mon, I'll show you the boarding area."
I shooed Mango up the stairs that led to my living quarters and shut the door behind him. Then I escorted Sarah from the grooming studio to another first-floor space.
The building had started out, in the late 1800s, as a private two-story home just off the main drag of rural Chadwick, New Jersey. You could tell that once upon a time it had a front porch, but eventually that was enclosed to create a storefront with a big display window. My Realtor had lost track of how many other businesses had occupied the place before I bought it four months ago. I only know that the last tenant, a cut-rate beauty salon, had left behind peeling paint, a leaky roof, and a thriving colony of field mice. All of those factors helped lower the price of the building so I could afford a down payment.
I did the scraping and repainting myself. Nick Janos, a handyman about Sarah's age, fixed the roof for me at a bargain rate. And for some reason, shortly after I stenciled CASSIE'S COMFY CATS on the front window, the mice moved out of their own accord.
Now one section of the downstairs former retail space provided a dozen cat "condos" for boarders. Each was the size of a broom closet and outfitted with a litter box at the bottom, bowls for food and water on the next level, and a higher, carpeted perch with a half curtain.
As I showed Sarah this area, she gushed, "These are wonderful, Cassie. What a creative design!"
"Thanks. I admit, I found the idea online, but my handyman built them all. I've only been open for a couple of months, so I've got just half a dozen cats in residence right now. Four are in the condos, as you can see, and two are out in the playroom."
We moved on to a larger, more open space filled with multi-tiered cat trees and towers, some taller than either of us. All the vertical posts were wrapped in sisal rope, and the various carpeted levels ranged from low tunnels, for cats that liked to hide, to platforms of different heights for the climbers. To separate this middle area from the front sales counter, Nick had built a wall of fine wire mesh on a wood frame, with a similar door that could be closed when there was a cat turned loose.
Sarah grinned over the playroom, with its cat furniture in different muted colors and geometric shapes. "And look at those guys!" She pointed over our heads, where a pair of Siamese lounged at opposite ends of a long, wavy, floating shelf — also built by Mr. Janos.
I explained, "Usually I only turn out cats together that come from the same home, like these two. Even so, in a strange place they might tend to squabble over territory. The different levels let them keep their distance from each other."
"Very smart." With a glance toward the small display of cat furniture in my front window, Sarah asked, "Do you also sell the perches?"
I nodded. "One commercial line, yes. I'll want you to handle some of those sales for me too, though it's not like I get a steady stream of customers."
She nodded. "Glad to. Keep my math skills sharp, right?"
"I'm sure they're better than mine."
A stolen glance at my watch made my heart jump. I'd been enjoying Sarah's company so much that I'd let time slip away from me. I should leave for DeLeuw's soon — it was a fifteen-minute drive.
"Sorry to rush this, but I've got a three o'clock appointment across town," I told her. "Can you help me put the Siamese back in their cages?"
The chocolate-point cat on the lower end of the shelf gave us no trouble, but her lavender-point buddy, higher up, had to be coaxed down with treats. Sarah's eyes lit up as she admired their fineboned faces, large batlike ears, and svelte bodies. Since she seemed to be taking to her responsibilities so well, I mentioned that she also would be helping me clean litter pans once a day and making sure the boarders had food and water. That didn't discourage her, and neither did the modest pay that I offered.
"I do think you have a real feel for the job," I said. "If you want, you can start tomorrow morning."
Sarah seemed delighted that she'd passed muster, and so was I. The rest of my week should go as well as this Monday!
I showed her out, with a warning to beware of the shaky railing on my back steps. She made it safely to her car and waved goodbye.
Watching her pull away, I let myself hope that finally I'd found someone reliable to help me juggle all the factors that went into running Cassie's Comfy Cats.
None too soon. For example, I had to close early now, just to make this house call.
Usually I insisted that customers bring their cats to my shop, where I had my grooming table set up close to my wall of brushes, combs, and clippers; a large bathing sink; and a special cage where a cat could be safely blow-dried. No way could I bring all of that to a customer's home, and I wouldn't expect any of them to have such a professional setup.
But George DeLeuw wasn't just any customer.
I locked my front door and turned the hanging sign to CLOSED. Then I grabbed a pink-and-black duffle already packed with my smock, head wrap, gloves, and extra grooming tools. I hurried out the back to my small parking lot and jumped into my four-yearold Honda CR-V.
Being new to Chadwick, and not a big reader of business magazines, I'd never heard of DeLeuw before he first contacted me. Actually, his executive assistant, Jerry Ross, made the call, asking if I could come out to groom DeLeuw's cat, Harpo, a cream-colored Persian. Trying to gauge how much might be involved, I asked if this was a show cat that would need a special cut.
No, Ross told me, Harpo was just a pet. "But his coat gets matted, and Mr. DeLeuw thinks that makes him ... uncomfortable. The cat, I mean."
I heard skepticism in the man's voice, which told me he didn't know a lot about cats. I had seen a few longhairs with mats so bad that they could cause pain or even health problems.
When I started to explain why I preferred to work on the animals in my own shop, Ross cut me off a bit impatiently. "Mr. DeLeuw has a professional-quality grooming studio in his home. I'm sure it will provide everything you need."
By that time, I'd gotten the impression that George DeLeuw probably had major bucks and could be a good customer to cultivate, so I'd agreed to make the trip.
His palatial home confirmed that impression. Only about five years old, it resembled an updated Norman château, with a massive front door and a turret section to one side. In beige stucco with brown trim, its otherwise rather mismatched segments seemed to spread out forever. His sweet-faced, middle-aged housekeeper, Anita, had answered the door and shown me in.
Tall, lean, and gray-haired, DeLeuw usually dressed even around the house in a polo or button-down shirt and khakis. I thought sometimes that he had the fastidious air of a minister rather than an executive. On that first visit, he had confessed that he'd tried to groom Harpo himself, with some help from Anita, but the results never looked quite right. "I was delighted to hear that a certified cat groomer had opened up right here in Chadwick," he said. "I'm sure you'll do much better."
He'd shown me to the rear of the second floor, where I did indeed find a clean, well-equipped grooming studio outfitted with almost everything I could want. Harpo, despite his flat, grumpy-looking Persian face, turned out to be a good-natured boy who was used to being handled. I didn't even need a harness to keep him on the table while I worked, and by the time I gave him a final fluff, he actually was purring. DeLeuw also appeared happy with the results and booked me for biweekly two-hour appointments.
So far I'd been to his home three times, and those visits had gone a long way toward helping pay my mortgage.
On my visits, I always let Anita or George himself take me directly to the grooming studio, and resisted the urge to roam through any other areas. I was afraid not only of getting lost, but of being accused in case anything valuable got broken or went missing. DeLeuw had quite an art collection, ranging from modern abstract paintings and drawings to stone artifacts that could have come from an archeological dig. My college minor was art, so I recognized the styles of some famous artists and got the idea that George collected only the best.
Harpo seemed the sole exception. Once, when I'd remarked on the way the cat's big, plumy tail curled up over his back, his owner chuckled and said that was one of a few flaws that would disqualify him as a show cat. "But to me, he's priceless," DeLeuw went on, scratching the Persian under the chin. "Harpo is my buddy, my confidante. I tell him all my secrets."
So, maybe a guy didn't have to be totally heartless to make a killing on Wall Street.
Stuck now at one of the two traffic lights on Center Street, I admired the cherry trees just starting to blossom in pink puffs along the curb. Chadwick's turn-of-the-century main drag had been idyllic enough in the past winter's snow — like something out of It's a Wonderful Life. I imagined spring and summer would bring out even more nostalgic charm.
I'd picked this town for a few reasons. Some practical, some emotional.
One of my high school friends, Dawn Tischler, operated a successful health food store just a few blocks from my new place. Visiting her over the years, I'd noticed that Chadwick was starting to "take off," becoming a desirable spot for urban and suburban folks who wanted to get away from it all for an afternoon or a weekend. It had sprouted a couple of bed-and-breakfasts, several antique and craft shops, a cute retro diner, and a few more upscale restaurants. Driving along Center Street, I passed an old theater that a local group recently had revived to show classic films. To the lakeside park, the town had added walking trails and a Victorian gazebo, where they'd planned a new series of concerts this spring.
Four months ago, when I'd decided to open my business, I'd also been one of those harried suburbanites who badly needed to get away from it all. My last romantic relationship had come to a disastrous and even violent end, and I wanted nothing more than to escape to a setting that promised peace and safety.
More trees and shrubs brightened my drive toward the outskirts of town with that unreal Day-Glo green of early spring. I rolled down my windows to better appreciate the clean, unpolluted air. I enjoyed the smell even when I passed the occasional small farm with grazing cows or horses. These alternated with new developments that boasted old-world names like Hunter's Chase and Regency Estates, trying to sound exclusive and expensive. I hoped the McMansion trend wouldn't creep any closer to Chadwick. I preferred the town's more genuine, historical appeal, even if it did come with a few mice or roof leaks.
Arriving at DeLeuw's place, I pulled into the long, curving driveway and parked in front of the detached garage, next to his silver Mercedes sedan. The front lawn was a perfect swath of emerald-green velour, kept that way by Louis, his landscaper, and smelled freshly mowed; as I left my car, I heard the whine of some type of machinery farther back on the property. Toting my duffle, I started around the front of the house, where purple and white crocuses peeked out from beneath the dark foundation shrubs.
Something else, cream-colored, flashed under the bushes and rustled away. Too fluffy and pretty to be any type of wild animal.
I set down my bag quietly and sank to my knees. "Harpo? That you, boy?"
It was him, all right, flattened beneath one of the bushes, his coppery eyes round and scared. Of course he would be — George had told me he never let the cat outside. Harpo must have darted out when somebody, maybe Anita, had opened the door.
I fished some cat treats from my duffle and made whispering noises until the Persian finally crept toward me. After a couple of minutes, I lured him close enough to scoop him up in my arms. Being about one-third fur, he was lighter than he looked.
"Let's get you back inside." I carried both my bag and the cat to the front stoop and started to ring the bell, then noticed the door stood a few inches ajar.
Weird ... somebody was being very careless, for sure. I pushed the door open and called out, "Hello?"
No answer. Harpo began to fidget, so I stepped inside anyway and put him down. He trotted off, feet padding silently over the marble tiles of the entry hall, and I followed him. With his heightened senses of smell and hearing, he probably would know where to find whoever was at home. Ideally, his master.
I was right about that. The cat passed a couple of open doorways before he veered into what I'd always taken to be the study.
There, we both found George DeLeuw sprawled facedown on the Oriental carpet, a bloody gash across the back of his head.
Excerpted from "The Persian Always Meows Twice"
Copyright © 2017 Eileen Watkins.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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