Lending a Paw: A Bookmobile Cat Mystery (Bookmobile Cat Mysteries)

Black, White, and Red . . .


Again with the scary howly noise. If I showed him that the place was empty, maybe he’d come to his kitty senses and we could be on our way. “Let’s go around the back, okay, Eddie?”

He bounded past me and streaked off.

Well. “Must be you want to check out the backyard,” I said, following him once again.


“Okay, okay.” I scanned the tall grass for signs of Eddie. “I can take a hint if I’m beaten over the head with it. I’m really pretty smart, you know. Did I ever tell you what I got on my SATs? Bet my score was a lot higher than yours, and—

For a brief, eternal second, I didn’t move. Didn’t think. Didn’t breathe. Because my black and white cat was standing next to something completely unexpected—the figure of a man. He was lying on his back, one arm flung across his chest, his face turned away from me, so all I got was the impression of age, frailty, and the absence of any life. But maybe . . . maybe there was breath. Maybe there was a chance.

I rushed forward. “Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? Do you need help?” I was kneeling, checking for a pulse, feeling the cool skin, knowing I was far too late, but looking for life anyway. “Can you hear me? Can you—”

My hand, which had been on the man’s wrist, came away slightly red and wet. Blood. What on . . . ?

I swallowed. The blood had come from a small hole in his shirt, right where his heart was. A small, bullet-sized hole.

Lending a Paw


Laurie Cass



Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China


A Penguin Random House Company

First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Copyright © Janet Koch, 2013

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

OBSIDIAN and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

ISBN 978-1-10163001-3


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



Title page

Copyright page




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

For Jessica Wade, who asked for a cat book


This is going to be a long set of acknowledgments, so please bear with me. Heartfelt thanks go to the following:

The bookmobile ladies of LaGrange County Public Library of Indiana. Not only did Kitty Helmkamp and her intrepid assistant let me tag along for a day of bookmobiling, but I got the insider’s tour of their gorgeous library. Thanks so much to the entire staff!

All the bookmobile manufacturers I contacted were helpful, but Barb Ferne of OBS went over the top. Thanks for all your help, Barb.

The Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS). My membership with ABOS has been invaluable and I am constantly impressed by the dedication and commitment of bookmobile folks.

My fellow PlotHatchers, authors Janet Bolin, Peg Cochran (also writing as Meg London), Krista Davis, Kaye George (also writing as Janet Cantrell), Daryl Gerber (also writing as Avery Aames), and Marilyn Levinson. Having the support of people who understand the writing life is more precious than I have room to describe.

And Krista Davis deserves a special mention. Though she claims not to remember, it was during a conversation with her that I dreamed up the idea of a bookmobile cat series. Thanks, Krista!

Additional thanks go to:

Author Darlene Ryan, aka Sofie Kelly, aka Sofie Ryan, who has the magical ability to make me laugh at things that shouldn’t be the least bit funny.

Author Peg Herring, who is always there when I need Thai food and/or information about Michigan schools.

The staffs at my local hangouts, the Central Lake District Library and the Bellaire Public Library.

Thanks always, always, always to my husband, who kept me fed and watered throughout the writing and editing of this book. You’re the best, sweetie!

To my amazing agent, Jessica Faust, and the entire BookEnds staff.

A huge thank-you goes to my outstanding editor, Jessica Wade. Not only was she the impetus behind the book’s entire concept, but she also took the mess that was the original manuscript and (oh-so-gently) helped me shape it into what you now hold in your hands. If you hear people say that books aren’t edited these days, send them to me.

And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank the real-life Eddie for allowing me to write about him. While the fictional Eddie and the real version are not exactly the same, most days it’s hard to tell the difference. Thanks, pal. You’re the best Eddie ever.

er 1

hen I was a little girl, I dreamed of growing up to be the president. Failing that, an astronaut or a ballerina.

My presidential aspirations were quashed when I found out that the president did not, in fact, get to do whatever he (or she) wanted. The astronaut idea faded when my mother told me that even people in space suits could get motion sickness, and my ballerina phase lasted only until I actually took a class and discovered that I had no aptitude whatsoever. Even at six, I knew what the ballet teacher’s headshaking meant.

With those career paths closed off, I went to my alternative tier of professional choices, determined in large part because I’d had the great good fortune to grow up within walking distance of a public library. By the time I’d turned ten, I knew that I would be one of three things: a librarian in a big city, a librarian in a large town, or a librarian in a small town.

Big cities give me the heebie-jeebies, so that was out. A large town would have been okay, but a few short years after receiving my master’s degree in library and information science and a few short weeks after the end of a long-term relationship, I found a posting for an assistant director position at the district library in Chilson, Michigan.

Chilson! I stared at the listing so long that my eyes dried out. Chilson was a small tourist town in northwest lower Michigan. It was where I’d spent childhood summers with my aunt. It was my favorite place in the whole world. Could I really be this lucky?

When the library board voted to hire me, I was deliriously happy. I was young, footloose, fancy-free, and, since I’d given up any hope of my height reaching five feet and had become resigned to the fact that my curly black hair was never going to straighten, things were working out just the way I’d crossed my fingers that they would.

But three years after my move to Chilson, not long past my thirty-third birthday, life took an abrupt turn.

I woke on that fateful Friday morning to the beeping of my alarm clock and a cat-shaped weight on my chest. Eyes closed, I thumped off the clock and spoke to the weight.

“Eddie, it’s time to get up.” I opened my eyes, then immediately shut them. “Why do you have to sleep so close to my face?” If I opened my eyes again, I’d see late-May sunshine streaming through the gap in the white curtains and illuminating my cat’s furry face, which was maybe an inch from my chin. Soon after Eddie had followed me home last month, I’d learned his preferred mattress was a human one.

As there’d been no feline reply, I tried a second time.

“Eddie, get up.”

A faint rumble spread into my chest.

“No purring.” I gave him a gentle shove that was meant to instigate a move. It did nothing. “I have to go to work. Sorry, pal, but you have to get off.” I rolled onto my left side. Eddie, still purring, slid off my chest and landed on my arm. “No,” I told him. “Really off.”

He opened one eye.

I pulled my arm out from underneath him. “What do you want me to do, stay in bed all day?”

He stopped purring and opened both eyes.

“Not a chance,” I said. “I have to go out and make a living so I can support us in the style to which you’ve recently become accustomed.”

He settled deep into the covers. With my freed arm I scratched his chin, earning more purrs. Then, grunting a little with the effort, I carefully moved him aside and got up to start the first day of the rest of my life.

Halfway to the bathroom I looked back at Eddie. My first cat. My first pet. My parents hadn’t encouraged household animals—my dad was allergic to pet dander—and until I met Eddie I’d never felt the lack.

Eddie yawned wide, laying his ears back against the sides of his head and showing me far too much of his pink tongue.

“Cover your mouth when you do that, will you?” I asked.

“Mrr,” he said sleepily.

“That’s what you always say,” I said. “You’d better learn some etiquette by October. Aunt Frances is a sweetheart, but she doesn’t tolerate bad manners.”

All winter I lived with my aunt in her old and large house, but come May she good-humoredly kicked me out to make room for guests who paid a lot more than I did. That was when I moved down the hill to the small houseboat I’d bought from an elderly couple when they’d moved to Florida. The month of April involved a lot of cleaning and prep before the guys at the marina moved the boat out of the warehouse and into the water, but I didn’t mind the work.

Friends shook their heads at my living arrangements. I heard a lot of “Don’t you want your own house?” and “You should be building up more equity,” and “Your aunt is awesome, but isn’t it a little like living with your parents?”

My reply was a smile and a shrug. It worked for me and it worked for Aunt Frances, who didn’t like to live alone. Maybe someday I’d want my own lawn to mow, my own furnace to repair, roof to fix, and plumbing to worry about. Maybe. For now, I was happy. And so was Eddie.

Six weeks ago, on my last pre-Eddie day, I’d been spending a gloomy Sunday on the houseboat, scrubbing and washing. Come midafternoon, a slice of blue sky had appeared through the partially open warehouse doorway. I’d wandered outside to see. Not only had the low gray clouds vanished, but the temperature had gone from stay-home-with-a-book to I-need-to-get-outside-or-I’ll-die.

I looked at the cloudless blue. At my boat. At the sky.

It’d be okay to take a short walk, I told myself. After the long winter we just had, it’d be criminal not to take advantage of this weather. A short walk, then I’d get the galley cleaned up, see that my neighbor Rafe hadn’t passed out from paint fumes in the house he was rehabbing, meet my friend Kristen for dinner, and still have plenty of time to clean the bedroom before heading back up to Aunt Frances’s place to sleep.

It didn’t turn out that way.

My short stroll through the streets of Chilson turned into a long ramble through a nearby park, which became a wandering walk through an old cemetery.

No one knew that I like to spend time in cemeteries. Not my friends or relatives, and certainly not my coworkers. The single time I’d suggested walking through a cemetery to someone (my very-
-fiancé), he’d made me feel like such a freak that I’d decided then and there to keep my cemetery inclinations to myself. I found cemeteries peaceful and calming in a poignant sort of way, and I always left from them eager to get things done.

The appropriately named Lakeview Cemetery was perched on the edge of a hill, overlooking the sparkling waters of the twenty-mile-long and two-mile-wide Janay Lake. That April afternoon I sat on a bench next to the headstone of Alonzo Tillotson (born 1847, died 1926) and enjoyed the pleasurable sensation that comes from skipping out on chores.

“I should get back,” I said to the view, not meaning a word of it. “There’s a lot to do.” Which was true, but Aunt Frances wouldn’t mind if I stayed in her house for another week. Her summer boarders wouldn’t show up until after Memorial Day—there was plenty of time for me to move to the houseboat.

I slid down into a slouch and lifted my face to the sun. “Lots to do,” I murmured lazily. “Finish the inside, wash down the deck, call the marina to schedule—”


I leapt up. Small animal noises eeked out of me, little bleats of panic that made me sound pathetic and small and frightened. All true, but still. I grabbed on to an arm of the bench, sucked large amounts of air into my lungs, and tried to pretend that I was a fully functional adult.

The cat at my feet didn’t look impressed.

“Did you make that awful noise?” I asked.

He—maybe it was a she, but the cat’s attitude felt decidedly male—looked at me. Unblinking yellow eyes stared into my brown ones. His markings were black and white stripes with a chest and paws that probably would have been white if they’d been clean. A small pyramid of whitishness had its peak between his eyes, spreading down to touch the outside corners of his wide mouth. The pale triangle gave him a face so expressive I almost felt as if he were talking to me.


Then again, maybe he was.

“Hello,” I said. “My name is Minnie Hamilton. And before you ask, yes, it’s short for Minerva, and no, I don’t know what my parents were thinking.”


The cat was sitting up straight, studying me intently. I didn’t care for the look. “Don’t you have a home?” I asked. “Someone’s looking for you, I’m sure.”

Without visibly flexing a muscle, he moved forward three inches.

“Yup,” I said, “there’s someone coming, without a doubt. You stay here and wait, okay?” I nodded. “Nice talking to you.”

I took one step away from the bench.

The cat didn’t move.

I took another step.

He still didn’t move.

Good. He wouldn’t follow me home and beg to be fed and housed and cared for. Or was it only dogs that begged? Everything I knew about pets I’d learned from watching
America’s Funniest Home Videos

I walked down the hill, not dawdling, but not hurrying, either, because being chased out of the cemetery by a cat was ridiculous.

So I headed back toward the marina with a light heart, thinking about the coming summer. My walk took me through the outskirts of town with its clapboard cottages, past the brick post office, past the stucco city hall, and through downtown with half its shops still closed for winter.

Throughout my journey, the sun shone and people smiled. I smiled back, happy to be alive, happy to be me. Then white-haired Mr. Goodwin, a regular library patron, said, “Hello, Minnie. Who’s your little friend?” He pointed behind me.

I closed my eyes. “Don’t tell me it’s a cat.”

The elderly man chuckled. “Okay, I won’t. Hope you and your friend enjoy the rest of this fine day.” He and his dapper cane moved off.

I kept my eyes closed for a moment longer. Mr. Goodwin had a vivid imagination; he was always telling shaggy-dog stories that kept you riveted until the final pointless ending. Sure, that was it. Another story. Just a really, really short one.


I turned and there he was. The cat. Who looked remarkably proud of himself.

“Why did you follow me?” I asked, frowning. “And quit looking at me like that.”

“Um, Minnie?” Another library patron was standing on the sidewalk, holding one small child by the hand and an even smaller one on her hip. “Cats don’t like that tone of voice,” she said. “If you keep talking to him like that, he’s never going to answer.”

“He followed me, that’s all. He’s not mine.”

“Are you sure?” Laughing, she walked off.

I looked at the cat. He looked at me.

“You do have a home, don’t you?” I asked.

He walked straight to me and gave me my first-ever fuzzy head butt, right on the boniest part of my shin.

“Ow! That hurt!”

He butted me again. This time it was gentler, almost a caress. Then he was winding around my ankles in figure eights, around and around and around.

I sank into a crouch and patted his head. He turned his face away, making my fingers slide under his chin. “You like that, do you?” I scratched his chin with one hand and petted his long back with the other.

His purrs were loud and rattling and . . . and comforting.

“Well,” I said, “maybe you could stay with me until we find your real home.”


• • •

That day had been almost two months ago. I’d taken the cat to the town’s veterinarian until the boat was ready, and the vet confirmed that the cat was a male, that he weighed thirteen pounds, had ear mites, needed to be wormed, was roughly two years old, and hadn’t been reported as missing.

I’d run the obligatory ad in the paper and talked to the local animal shelter, but no one came to claim my little buddy. His name had been the inspiration of a bemused coworker. “Sounds like an Eddie kind of a cat,” Josh had said after I’d told the story.

“What kind is that?” Holly, another coworker, had asked.

“Just . . . Eddie.” Josh had shrugged. “You know what guys named Eddie are like.”

And just like that, my cat had a name, because I knew exactly what Josh meant. Guys named Eddie spoke their minds, didn’t waste time when they knew what they wanted, and were deeply loyal. They were the classic average good guys. At least that’s what the Eddies I’d known were like, and the name fit my new friend as if it were tattooed on his furry forehead.

I looked at him now. He was squirreled into the covers of my bed, and he still looked like an Eddie. And he still looked like he wanted me to stay home and nap with him all morning.

“Can’t do it. It’s the big day, remember?”

He half opened his eyes. “Mrr.”

It was an invitation that had, more than once, tempted me to whack the snooze button on the alarm clock. Not this time. I ignored him and headed to the shower. Half an hour later I was dried, clothed, breakfasted, and had done my best to make the bed around the sleeping Eddie.

I also kept a promise I’d made to my mother and left a note on a whiteboard I’d tacked up in the kitchen about where I was going and when I was going to return. Mom worried—a lot—and my vow to always leave a note of my whereabouts comforted her. How leaving a note for myself would help anything, I didn’t know, but she said it made her sleep easier.

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