It’s launch day for Farewell to Felines. This is the 15th book in the popular Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery Series. If you would like to take a sneak peek, here is chapter 1.
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Monday, March 12
The hollow is a mystical place located in the center of Madrona Island. Given the rocky cliffs that encircle the area, it’s protected from the storms that ravage the shoreline. The hollow is uninhabited except for the cats who reside in the dark spaces within the rocks. One of the things I like best about the hollow are the whispers in the air. Most believe the sound is created by the wind echoing through the canyon, but I like to think the whispers are the cats, heralding my arrival.
“Do you hear them?” I asked Tansy as we hiked to the top of the bluff that overlooked the ocean in the distance.
“No. The cats are quiet, and that worries me.” Tansy has some sort of mystical power that’s tied in with the magic surrounding the cats. She and her best friend, Bella, are rumored to be witches. Neither of them will confirm or deny their witchy status, but both women know things that can’t be empirically explained. Tansy and I had decided to venture into the hollow after she had a premonition that the cats were unhappy and leaving the area for reasons she didn’t understand.
“It’s odd not to have seen a single cat by this point.” I paused and looked around. “Should we continue?”
“What does your intuition tell you?”
While I don’t have Tansy’s powers, it does seem I’ve been tasked with the responsibility of working with the island’s magical cats. It’s not something I asked for, but I know deep in my soul that my role with the cats is tied to my destiny. “My intuition tells me we need to climb higher.”
Tansy smiled and nodded for me to walk ahead of her on the narrow path. The trail was steep and covered in shale, making for a difficult and dangerous passage. I’m in pretty good shape, so I’m well equipped for a laborious hike, but I could sense a storm coming and was afraid it would arrive before Tansy and I would be able to make our way back down the trail and out of the hollow. Still, over time I’ve learned to trust her, so I continued, despite the risk. The trail narrowed as it wound steeply up the mountain. My legs burned as I struggled to keep my footing on the unstable ground.
“If your sense is that the cats are leaving the hollow, where are they going?” I asked. “We do live on an island, after all. It’s not like they can venture very far.”
“If the cats are intent on leaving they’ll find a way.”
I supposed Tansy was right. I knew one cat in particular who seemed to make his way between the islands with seemingly little difficulty. Of course, Ebenezer was a special cat who seemed almost human at times, but then again, all the cats I’d worked with were special in their own way.
Once we arrived at the summit, I paused to catch my breath and admire the view. The ocean looked dark and angry as the storm gathered just beyond the horizon. I listened once again, turning slightly so I was facing the sea. “My instinct tells me we should head inland, but a storm is coming and I’m not sure continuing is the best idea.”
“Never doubt your instincts, Caitlin Hart.”
I glanced back toward the narrow path. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to go on for a bit. I’d hate to have come this far and not find out what’s causing the disturbance.” The detour was going to add time to our journey and I hoped it wasn’t all for nothing. Usually it was Tansy who would lead the way while I followed. It felt somewhat unnatural for her to be walking behind me. I wondered if this wasn’t some kind of a test to prove my worthiness to expand my role as guardian to the cats.
We had just started down the path when Tansy gasped. I stopped walking and turned around to find her holding a hand to her chest. Her long black hair blew in the wind, creating a vail of sorts that framed her pale face. “Are you okay?” I walked back the way I’d come until I was at her side.
“No. I don’t think I am.”
“Should we go back?”
Tansy shook her head. “I am certain we must continue.”
“Are you in pain?” I didn’t think going on with a sick witch was a good idea at all.
“It’s the hollow that’s sick. For magic to survive, a very specific balance must be maintained. I feel that balance has been altered.”
I had no idea what Tansy was talking about, but a bit of color had returned to her normally pale complexion that made me feel better. “Are you sure you want to continue?”
I took a deep breath and turned back to the narrow path. “Okay. But let me know if you need to stop.”
I walked down the trail slowly so as not to tax Tansy, but to be honest, the farther I traveled, the more urgent was my desire to run. “There’s a fork,” I said after we’d been walking a while. “Both paths are narrow and both continue inland.”
“Close your eyes and focus on the paths ahead of you,” Tansy suggested.
I did as she instructed.
“Which path feels right to you?”
“The trail to the left,” I said with a confidence I wasn’t really feeling.
“All right. Then we’ll continue to the left.”
I nodded and headed down that trail. I could feel Tansy walking behind me, but I could also sense her distress. I stopped and turned around. “I can go on alone if you want to wait for me here.”
“No. We’re close. Can you smell it?”
I took a deep breath and wrinkled my nose at the stench. “What is it?”
“The source of the disturbance. It won’t be long now.”
“Until what?” I had to ask. This whole thing was beginning to freak me out. After several years of witnessing some truly spectacular things, there’s no way I was going to try to argue that magic didn’t exist, but the idea that it depended on some sort of perfect balance was a bit hard to swallow.
“There.” I turned around in time to see Tansy pointing to a small body of water in the distance.
After we’d traversed the space between where we’d stood and the small pond, I looked down at the murky surface of the usually pristine blue water. “Something’s wrong with the water. It smells awful. I think it’s been contaminated.”
Tansy frowned. “Yes, I’m afraid it has been tainted. I imagine the lack of clean water is the catalyst that’s driving the cats away.”
“How can we fix it?”
“I sense the tainted water is a symptom of a larger problem. The answers we seek will reveal themselves in the coming days. We’ve done what we can for now.”
I turned and headed back in the direction from which we had come. As we neared the top of the path and the bluff, I heard thunder rumbling in the distance. I glanced out at the dark sea as we paused momentarily before continuing down the other side. The dark clouds had completely blocked the light the sun would have provided. I just hoped we’d make it back to the car before the worst of the storm hit.
“Do you think the cats will return if we can find the source of the contamination and fix it?”
The walk down from the summit was accomplished much more quickly than the trip up. When we arrived at my car I noticed a large brown cat with bright eyes and pointy ears sitting on the hood. “Am I to assume this cat will be leaving with us?”
“Apollo is here to help.”
“With the water in the hollow?”
Tansy picked up the cat. She closed her eyes and whispered to it in a language I didn’t understand. The cat meowed a couple of times, and Tansy opened her eyes. “I’m afraid Apollo is here to help you resolve a different issue. Follow his lead and you’ll find the answers you seek.”
“Has someone died?”
Tansy nodded but didn’t answer. My heart sank. Occasionally, cats appeared to help me deal with a problem other than a murder, but most of the time when one of them appeared someone had died. I wondered who.
As we drove back to Pelican Bay, where Tansy lived with Bella, the sky continued to darken. The wind had picked up quite a bit, and I could tell by the heaviness of the clouds that we were in for a serious storm. I dropped Tansy at her house, then drove back toward the peninsula, where I lived. I was nearing the point where I turned on to the peninsula road when Apollo started meowing and jumping around the car. I slowed and eventually pulled over.
“What is it? Are you trying to tell me who’s died?”
“Meow.” Apollo began pawing at the glove box. I opened it, and a sheet of yellow paper fell out of it and onto the floor.
“That’s just the program from Sunday services at St. Patrick’s.”
Apollo jumped from the front seat onto the floor. He picked up the paper in his mouth, then leaped back onto the seat. Once he was settled he placed the program on the seat between us.
“I don’t understand what you want me to do. Today is Monday. Services are on Sundays.”
“Meow.” Apollo placed his paw on the program.
I looked at what he seemed to be pointing to. “That’s the set list the adult choir sang during yesterday’s service. Do you want me to go to St. Patrick’s?”
The cat didn’t respond.
I tried to figure out exactly what it was the cat was pointing to. “Do you want me to pay a visit to Father Bartholomew? Oh God, he isn’t the one who died, is he?”
The cat still didn’t respond.
“It isn’t Sister Mary?” My heart began to race as the thought entered my mind. I’d known Sister Mary for most of my life. She was my best friend’s biological mother and almost a member of my family. “Please tell me it isn’t Sister Mary.”
Apollo just stared. I’m not sure if cats can experience frustration, but I got the feeling this one was quickly becoming impatient with me. It seemed his silence represented a negative response, so I continued to guess at what it was he was trying to tell me. “Maybe someone whose name is on the list?”
“Okay, good. Now we’re getting somewhere.” The first name on the list was Thea Blane, the new director of the adult choir. “Do you want me to pay a visit to Thea?”
“Is Thea the one who’s died?”
I closed my eyes and offered a silent prayer. She and I hadn’t been close, but I’d known her casually for quite a few years. She was single, lived alone, and didn’t seem to have any family on the island. Still, I was sure there were those who would mourn her passing. I looked at the darkening sky. Thea lived all the way over in Harthaven and the storm was getting closer. If I continued to her place, we risked getting caught in it. “Are you sure Thea’s the one we need to find?”
I glanced at the sky one last time. It would be a risk to make the trip, but I couldn’t go on the off chance Thea was still alive and Apollo’s insistence was to save her, not simply to discover her remains. Making a decision, I pulled back onto the road and headed toward Harthaven.
When Apollo and I arrived at Thea’s place I saw her car in the driveway. I still hoped she was alive and Apollo had brought us here for another reason. Once again, I prayed we weren’t too late. I opened my door, which allowed Apollo to slip out of the car before I could stop him. I watched as he went to the door, then joined him on the front porch, rang the bell, and waited. My heart was pounding the entire time. I waited another minute before ringing the bell for a second time. When Thea still didn’t answer, I knocked on the door and called her name. When she still didn’t answer I tried to turn the knob. The door was locked.
“Maybe I should call Finn,” I said as the first raindrops began to fall. “Come to think of it, maybe that’s what I should have done in the first place.”
“Meow.” Apollo hopped off the raised porch and ran around to the back of the house.
I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my hair and followed him as the rain increased in intensity. At the side of the house, I found the wooden gate leading to the backyard open slightly. Apollo slipped inside and out of sight. I felt I had no choice but to follow, so I lowered my head and trotted to the gate. When I reached the back door I saw it was ajar, and Apollo was nowhere in sight. I opened the door wider, calling Thea as I did so.
I walked through the kitchen to the main living area of the house. “Thea,” I called once again. “It’s Caitlin Hart. Are you home?”
My words were met with silence. I looked around for the cat and spotted him sitting on top of a small desk against the wall near the foot of the stairs. When he saw I’d found him, the cat jumped down and ran up the stairs. As I followed, I heard the first rumbling of thunder in the distance.
At the top of the stairs was a short hallway that led to four rooms. The first contained a bed and a dresser and looked like a guest room. It appeared to be empty and undisturbed, so I continued to the second room, which turned out to be a bathroom. The third room looked a lot like one of the rooms in my Aunt Maggie’s house that she used for a craft and sewing room, so I imagined the last door would lead to the master bedroom. When I saw a pair of feet sticking out from the far side of the bed I knew for certain what I had feared since Apollo had snuck into the house was true. Thea Blane was dead.