Susie Katz is known as the crazy cat lady of Longely, New York, and goes out of her way to earn the title, right down to her cat T-shirts and porcelain Hello Kitties. So when she decides to put up a tent on her property and hold an extravagant wedding ceremony for her two Russian blues, she makes sure to include a few two-legged guests.
All her favorite enemies will be there: her bird-loving neighbor, a rival cat breeder, a local animal rights activist, and the niece and nephew who stand to inherit her considerable fortune. But chaos erupts when mice jump out of a wedding gift and all the pampered partygoers disappear. Just a few hours later, Susie is stabbed in the back while searching for her missing kitties near the now-empty tent—and it’s up to the Simmons sisters to sniff out the killer . . .
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Bernie and Libby looked around the Connor estate as they drove through the gate. It had been at least eight years since the sisters had been there, and they could see what all the fuss in the town was about. The estate, which was situated on a hill, was located on the outskirts of Longely, in a wealthy neighborhood called the Pines. The Pines was known for its classic brick colonials, rolling lawns, brooks, restrained landscaping, and house-proud owners. The Connor estate, now officially known as the Katz estate, had changed that algorithm. With a vengeance.
"Wow," Libby said, pointing to the eight-foot-high pink neon cat still decorated with Christmas lights, a cat that would have been at home in front of a roadside diner in Vegas but was definitely out of place in this neighborhood. "That's certainly ..."
"Visible," Bernie said, finishing her sister's sentence for her. She gestured to the other five cats, each in a different garish color, dotted around the immaculate lawn. "They remind me of strippers at a DAR meeting. I can understand why Constance is upset," Bernie continued. Constance was one of Susie Katz's neighbors and a regular at A Little Taste of Heaven. (One large coffee with room for cream and a toasted corn muffin, no butter.) "I wouldn't be happy if I had to look at those out my living room window, either."
"Well, she's in good company," Libby informed her sister. "I heard Charlene Eberhart went to the town board about them. Those cats aren't cheap, you know," Libby added.
"No, I didn't." Bernie slowed Mathilda down. The road had become a series of sharp turns, and she didn't want to end up on the lawn. "How much?"
Libby named a figure. She'd gotten the lowdown from one of their customers who had a sister who served on the board.
Bernie whistled. "I'm impressed."
"And that doesn't include the hefty donation Susie Katz made to the town coffers to have Charlene's complaint go away."
"I'm shocked, simply shocked," said Bernie, parroting a line from Casablanca. "I guess when you have that much money, you get to do what you want," she observed as she continued up the road that led to Susie Katz's house. "She could probably buy the whole town if she wanted to."
"Thus it was, and thus it will ever be," Libby replied.
Bernie glanced over at her sister. "You're getting cynical in your old age," she remarked.
Libby laughed. "I learned it from you."
A moment later, the sisters arrived at their destination. Bernie parked next to the house, and she and Libby got out.
It was a gray afternoon in early January, and a cold wind had sprung up off the Hudson. It blew up the valley and wound itself around the hills before creeping under the Simmons sisters' upturned coat collars.
"It's colder than I thought," Bernie remarked as she and Libby walked up to the entrance of Susie Katz's house and rang the bell. They stamped their feet to keep warm as they waited to be let in.
"I wish we were catering a wedding," Libby said.
"We are," Bernie observed as she jammed her hands into her pink peacoat and wished she'd brought gloves with her.
Libby put the hood of her old parka up, noting the frayed edges as she did. "For people."
"This will be easier," Bernie told her.
"That's not the point," Libby objected. She blinked her eyes. The wind was making them tear.
"Maybe this will bring us more business."
"Great. Just what I want us to specialize in. Pet weddings," Libby grumbled.
"It could be lucrative."
"I don't care. I don't want to bake dog biscuits."
"I'm talking about Susie, Libby. Maybe this could be our foot in the door."
"She doesn't entertain," Libby objected. The catering community was small, and everyone knew what everyone else was and wasn't doing.
"But she used to," Bernie replied. "Maybe she will again."
"I'm not sure I want our foot in the door, Bernie. I hear Susie's pretty weird."
"Eccentric," Bernie answered. "If we were living in an English village, she would be called eccentric."
"Catcentric in this case," Libby corrected. "But we're not living in an English village. We're living in Westchester." She pointed to the pictures of cats Susie had had painted on the shutters and the door of the stately hundred-year-old brick colonial. The effect, Libby reflected, was like adding hot fudge sauce to pommes soufflées. "I mean, why buy a house like this and do this to it?" Libby asked, gesturing to the painted cats and statues.
Bernie shook her head. She didn't have an answer.
Libby sneezed. She hoped she wasn't getting sick. "She changed her name, you know."
"I do." Bernie had read Susie Katz's bio in People, too.
The headline had proclaimed SUSIE, LARGER THAN LIFE, which she was, in all senses of the word. According to the article, Susie Katz, née Susie Abrams, had made a killing on Wall Street, after which she'd retired, moved up to Longely, bought the old Connor estate, and become a semi-hermit. The movers and shakers of Longely had expected a slew of parties once she'd settled in — she'd been the hostess with the mostess when she'd lived in New York City — but according to local gossip, the only people she saw on a regular basis now were her niece and nephew and her staff.
A moment later, Susie's nephew Ralph Abrams opened the door. Bernie judged him to be in his early thirties. He was tall and skinny, with a thatch of light red hair, a prominent Adam's apple, and thick glasses that magnified his eyes. He was wearing a pair of jeans held up with a pair of red suspenders, and a tucked-in flannel shirt with a dusting of cat litter around the cuffs.
"Sorry it took so long," he told them after introducing himself. "I was feeding some of the cats."
"I can hear them," Libby said.
Ralph smiled. "Yes, they do have a lot to say." Then he added, "Susie will be here in a minute. It just takes her a while to locomote."
"No problem," Bernie said as she and Libby stepped into the hallway.
When she and her sister had been here eight years ago to cater an engagement party for Mr. and Mrs. Harriman's daughter June, the walls had been painted a pale green, the furnishings had been Stickley, the paintings on the walls had been landscapes, and the floor had been black-and-white marble tile.
The floor was the only thing that remained the same. Now the walls were a bright electric blue and were covered with cat portraits, while the furnishings were midcentury modern. Intensive redecorating had also occurred in the living room. If the Harrimans' furniture had looked as if it had come directly from the showroom, Susie Katz's looked as if it had come from a grad student's apartment. The armchairs were sagging, the sofa had a blanket thrown over it, and the tables were scratched and dented.
And then there were the cats. They seemed to be everywhere, perched on the living-room chairs and sofas, lounging on cat trees, sniffing at Bernie's and Libby's heels, or watching them from a suspension bridge made of rope that hung a foot below the ceiling.
"Neat, isn't it?" Ralph said, referring to the bridge. "My aunt had it specially made."
"How many cats are there?" Bernie asked over a loud meow.
"Why? Do you think there are too many?" said a deep female voice behind her.
Bernie and Libby spun around. It was Susie Katz herself, standing before them in all her glory.CHAPTER 2
As Bernie studied Susie Katz, she reflected that she moved very quietly for such a big woman, and big was the operative word here. She was as wide as she was tall, but that wasn't the only notable thing about her. Her hair was fire-engine red and fought with the green eye shadow and the pink lipstick Susie had applied, as well as the orange bandanna she'd tied pirate-style around the top of her head. Her jeweled green and yellow caftan glittered in the light as she extended her arms to Bernie and Libby. This, Bernie reflected, was a woman who was clearly not afraid of color.
"So," Susie said. "I repeat my question. Do you think I have too many cats?" The expression on her face made the answer she expected clear, and Libby gave her what she wanted.
"Of course not," Libby lied. "After all, you are a breeder."
"It's like little black dresses," Bernie added. "You can never have too many of those either."
Susie frowned and pointed to herself. "I wouldn't know about that. The word little isn't in my vocabulary."
Bernie tried to redeem herself. "You know what they say? A cat a day chases the blues away." Now where had that come from? She didn't have a clue. "In fact," Bernie continued, "we have a cat ourselves."
Her interest piqued, Susie smiled. "What kind?"
Bernie wrinkled her forehead. "Kind?"
"What breed?" Susie asked impatiently, drumming her fingers on her thighs.
"None, as far as I know," Bernie replied. "She's just a cat."
Susie sniffed her disdain. It was obvious to Bernie that she'd just lost the points she'd scored.
"I have nothing against the non-breeds," Susie told her, an obvious lie, "but I prefer my Russian blues and Burmese." As if on cue, a grayish blue cat wound itself around Susie's ankles. Susie picked him up and scratched behind his ears. "This is Serge. He's going to be Boris's best cat."
Libby reached out a hand to pet him, but Serge growled at her, and she quickly drew her hand back.
"The poor dear is a little cranky," Susie informed her. "He didn't sleep well last night. Nightmares, you know."
"I didn't know cats had nightmares," Libby said.
"Of course they do," Susie said indignantly. "Everyone knows that!"
Libby apologized. She wondered if their cat dreamt. Somehow, she doubted it. Cindy did snore from time to time, but that wasn't the same thing.
Susie handed Serge to Ralph, instructing Ralph to feed Serge in the kitchen. "And make sure you chop the liver up fine enough. He doesn't like big pieces," Susie told her nephew, raising her voice.
"Yes, Auntie," Ralph replied, a look of resentment flashing across his face.
"See that you do, Ralphie," Susie said, reiterating her point. She shook her head. "I have to remind him of everything," she confided to Bernie and Libby before Ralph was out the door. She shook her head again, a gesture intended to convey pity, Bernie decided. "If he weren't my nephew, I would have fired him a long time ago." Bernie watched the back of Ralph's neck redden. Then Susie waved her hand and changed the subject. "This year I'm going to win," she said.
"Win what?" Libby asked politely, trying not to sneeze. Even though the place was spotless, the cats were beginning to get to her.
"Best in show at the CFA Extravaganza, of course," Susie answered in a tone that proclaimed the self-evidence of the response. She pointed to a clear spot on one of the shelves. "That's where I'm going to put the trophy." She sniffed. "And then that will be the final proof. The cherry on the sundae, if you will. Then no one will dare question my lineages."
"Lineages?" Bernie asked.
Susie explained as she continued her march forward. The sisters tagged along behind her, zigzagging this way and that to avoid tripping over the cats sauntering across their paths, rubbing up against their legs, and just generally getting underfoot. It was like walking through an obstacle course that moved, Libby reflected.
Finally, the three of them arrived at the teak-paneled study. Although the sisters had never been in this room, looking around, Bernie could surmise from the built-in bookshelves that this room had once functioned as a library. But not anymore. Susie had converted the room into a museum for everything feline.
The shelves were filled with porcelain Hello Kitties, Japanese cat prints, Egyptian statues of the cat goddess Bastet, cat mugs, cat and dog salt and pepper shakers, and cat T-shirts. The selection ranged from extremely expensive to dollar store, and as far as Bernie could see, no attempt had been made to sort anything out.
Susie laughed as she followed Bernie's and Libby's gaze. "One of these days, I'll get around to organizing this lot." She waved her hand dismissively. "But not now. Take a seat," she said, gesturing to the ones in front of her desk, the ones Boris and Natasha were lounging on.
The cats gave Bernie and Libby the evil eye.
"Here are the lovebirds now," Susie sang. She introduced them. "Natasha Abramova and Boris Spectorski, this is Libby and Bernie. They are the people who will be catering your wedding."
Natasha licked her paw, while Boris just stared.
"They don't look impressed," Bernie noted.
"They're a little standoffish with new people," Susie explained. "Just scooch them off the chairs," Susie told the sisters.
Bernie and Libby scooched. The cats stayed where they were. After the sisters' third failed scooching attempt, Susie took over.
"Bad kitties," she crooned. "Naughty, naughty, naughty. Mommy wants to speak to the nice ladies." Nothing. She clapped her hands. The cats stared at her. "Snookums want a treatie?" Susie sang.
Boris's and Natasha's ears perked up. Bernie watched as Susie moved a pink folder decorated with a picture of Grumpy Cat to one side, unscrewed the top of a cat-shaped Wedgwood cookie jar, took out two fish-shaped treats, and held them out. Both cats got up ever so slowly, stretched, then gave Libby and Bernie baleful glares before they jumped down off the chairs, collected their treats, and retreated to the Oriental rug on the other side of the room.
"Aren't they sweet?" Susie crooned.
"Darling," Bernie said as she and Libby sat down.
Susie gave her a suspicious glance, but Bernie just smiled at her. Assuaged, Susie sat down and started rummaging through the papers on her desk.
"Boris and Natasha are very rare, you know," she informed Bernie and Libby while she looked. "Their bloodlines go back to the czars."
Libby tried to look interested.
"I was lucky to get them." A moment later, Susie found the yellow legal pad she was searching for and handed it to Libby. "The menu is on top," she informed her.
"Very Russian," Libby said after she'd scanned the menu and handed it to Bernie. Bernie raised an eyebrow as she read.
"That's the idea," Susie said, pleased that Libby had understood what she was after.
"You want to serve this menu to both groups?" Bernie asked when she was done. It was almost all caviar; raw, smoked, and poached salmon; and a variety of pÃ¢tÃ(c)s.
"Naturally," Susie replied. "That's the whole idea." She frowned and fiddled with her pen. "Although, Grace and Ralphie will probably be too busy to eat. It's the caviar I'm concerned with," Susie continued, changing subjects. "Who's your supplier?"
Bernie named theirs.
"No. No. No." Susie waved her hands in the air. "They won't do at all!"
"Why not?" Bernie asked. "They're extremely reputable. We've never had any problems with them."
Susie put her pen down and leaned back in her chair. Boris jumped up on her lap, and she began to pet him. "They handle salted caviar."
"All the caviar we get here is salted," Libby pointed out. "Lightly salted, but salted nevertheless."
"Not the kind I want," Susie said. "Salt is not good for my babies." She leaned down and kissed Boris's head. The cat yawned.
"Okay," Bernie said, leaning forward in her chair, not sure where the conversation was going.
Susie took back her yellow pad, wrote a name at the bottom of the top page, and put the pen down.
"Here," she said, tearing the bottom quarter of the page off and handing it to Bernie. "I want you to call him. I've already talked to him. He's absolutely trustworthy. After all, he got me Boris and Natasha."
"I don't understand," Libby protested. "What's this guy going to do that our guy can't?"
"He'll supply you with pure sturgeon eggs, eggs that have never been salted or processed. I want only the best for my babies."
"And these eggs are coming from?" Bernie asked.
"Russia, of course!" Susie exclaimed, the shock emanating from her voice, underlining her amazement that anyone could even ask a question like that.
"Won't the roe spoil?" Libby asked.
Susie snorted. "Would I do this if that was the case?" she asked. Then she answered her own question. "Of course I wouldn't. The eggs will be overnighted from Russia to here on the day of the wedding, and they'll be delivered to your shop."
"My God, how much is this going to cost?" Bernie asked.
Susie named the price.
Bernie couldn't help it. She gasped. She wasn't shocked by much, but she was shocked by this.
Susie shrugged. "What's the point of money if you can't do what you want with it?"
"I suppose," said Libby. This was not a problem she anticipated having. Ever. She cleared her throat.
"Yes?" Susie said in a voice that didn't encourage questions.
"About the wedding cake," Libby said.
"What about it?" Susie asked.
"It just seems to me that actual fish-head decorations are a bit ..."
"A bit what?" Susie demanded.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Catered Cat Wedding"
Copyright © 2018 Isis Crawford.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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