A booth at the Bunyan County Harvest Fair seems like the perfect opportunity for Charity “Chase” Oliver and Anna Larson to promote their Bar None bakery business. Unfortunately, plus-sized pussycat Quincy has plans for their delicious dessert bars other than selling them to customers. After tearing through their inventory, Quincy goes roaming the fairgrounds in search of more delights.
But what he finds is murder. One of the top contenders in a butter-sculpting contest has been killed, and Chase is churning on the inside when she sees Quincy’s handsome veterinarian, Dr. Mike Ramos, being led away by the police. With a little help from a kitty with butter on his whiskers, Chase needs to find the real killer and clear the doctor’s good name…
Includes recipes for people and cats!
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Charity Oliver, usually called Chase, smiled as she handed the bag of dessert bars to the customer and took her money.
“I just love these Hula Bars,” the customer said. “My grandkids do, too. I can’t keep them in the house.”
The satisfied woman left the shop with her pineapple-coconut treat, setting off the tinkling chimes above the door. A bit of brisk October air whooshed in before the door closed.
At last, the shop was empty. The Bar None had done great business today, nearly nonstop. But there was so much else to do right now!
Chase let her cheek muscles relax from all the hours of smiling. They almost hurt. Still, business was good and she couldn’t complain. She surveyed her domain—hers and Anna’s.
The salesroom design had been handled by Chase alone, and she was so proud of it. The walls were striped the colors of raspberry and vanilla, set off by the cotton-candy-pink shelving that held boxed dessert bars. The glass display case near the rear of the salesroom housed fresh merchandise, dessert bars made by Chase and Anna in the kitchen behind the front area.
“Ms. Oliver,” said Inger, the sales clerk, “I can stay out here if you want to get off your feet.” Her smoky gray eyes smiled with the rest of her small, pretty face. The standard mulberry smocks they all wore in the salesroom, with pink rickrack and the embroidered Bar None logo, suited Inger’s blonde coloring. Her curls bounced when she nodded at the customers, who seemed to genuinely like her.
Chase wondered if Inger’s offer to let Chase rest was a veiled reference to the fact that her employee was a good ten years younger than Chase’s thirty-two, but decided it wasn’t. Inger was a genuinely kind and guileless young woman. Inger had taken a break about two hours ago, so it was Chase’s turn.
“Thanks, Inger. Holler if you get swamped.” Chase pushed through the swinging double doors to the kitchen, where Anna was working, and took a seat on one of the stools at the center island. The aroma of cinnamon and pumpkin spice wafted through the room.
Chase picked up the cup of tea, now cold, that she’d left there hours ago.
“She’s a gem, Charity,” Anna said. “You did well to hire Inger.” Today, her periwinkle-blue eyes sparkled, picking up the sapphire tones of her sweater, even though all you could see of it were the sleeves beneath her Bar None apron. The rest of her outfit was her usual plain T-shirt and jeans. Her grandmotherly build and gray bobbed hair gave no indication of the fact that, in her seventies, she could work circles around Chase.
Chase took a sip of the tea, then set it down to redo the clip in her honey-blonde hair. It constantly needed redoing. Since her hair was so straight, her clips slipped easily and allowed her locks to dangle in her face. Not an ideal style for a place that sold food.
“That was pure luck,” Chase said. “I had to do something in a hurry when we lost the others. I think all the college kids already had jobs, so she was the only applicant.” She started humming “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls.
Anna slid three batches of Harvest Bars, their new creation, into the oven. “I think we’ll have enough of our new dessert bars for the fair as soon as these are done. It’s almost time to close up.”
Anna and Chase had come up with the idea of pumpkin spice dessert bars especially for the autumn fair. When Inger had tasted them, she insisted they would be a huge hit.
Chase glanced at the clock on the wall. Five forty-five. Fifteen minutes until their regular Thursday closing time of six.
Her cell phone trilled and she saw Tanner’s ID. “I’ll be back in a sec,” she called to Anna, heading for the back door. She answered the call once she was outside. “Tanner, so what do you think?”
“I’ll do it. Your offer is good. But when do you want it by? And what exactly do you want?”
“A webpage. Isn’t that what we discussed?”
The kid—he couldn’t be more than seventeen or eighteen—had designed the website for Dr. Michael Ramos’s vet clinic and Mike had been happy to refer him to Chase. “Ms. Oliver, you need a web presence, not just a page. I can do it all if you want. You’ll need Facebook, Twitter, a blog—”
“Wait a minute. Let’s do this one step at a time. My partner isn’t totally on board with this, so we can’t go whole hog right now. We just need a webpage for visibility. And a map. And maybe a place where we can take online orders, I think. Those are the main things I’d like to get started.”
“Sure.” She could almost see him shrug his skinny shoulders. “If that’s the way you want to play it. I’ll do the page first. But you’re going to need to get involved, you know. Can you e-mail me some shots?”
“Yeah, the outside of the store and the place where you sell things.”
“The salesroom. Yes, I’ll take some pictures and e-mail them.”
“Cool. We’re on.”
She was starting to shiver, so she hurried back inside.
“Who was that?” Anna looked suspicious.
“I had to get something from my car.”
“Who was on the phone? It was that computer kid, wasn’t it? Did you tell him we don’t need to be online? We sell products at the store, not on a computer.”
“It would at least be good advertising. People could find us on the web and would know how to get here.”
Anna looked doubtful. “Come help me get these boxed up to take tomorrow.”
“I’m still not sure if we should have let Julie talk us into having a booth at the Harvest Fair.” Julie was Anna’s actual granddaughter, though she treated Chase as if she were one, too.
Anna picked up her cup of tea from the granite counter next to the stove and came to sit next to Chase. “I think it’s a fabulous idea.” Anna’s merry eyes crinkled when she smiled.
Chase was glad the subject was changed from the webpage.
Dinkytown, where the Bar None was located, bordered the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The neighborhood, so named after a remark meant to be derogatory, was a miniature shopping district with a few residences sprinkled in. Chase’s own apartment was above the shop.
A plaintive mew came from behind the office door.
“I’ll go check on him,” Chase said. She warmed up a Kitty Patty in the microwave for a few seconds. Slowly, she edged the office door open, putting her foot in position to keep Quincy contained inside.
The butterscotch tabby sat in the middle of the floor, even though the feeding woman was ready to block his escape if he’d been near the door. The treats usually came earlier in the day, and the cat was starting to feel hungry and neglected. It seemed he was being careful not to look too eager, waiting while she set the patty on a plate before he strolled over to give it a sniff. However, after the meaty aroma reached his pink nose, he dived in. The woman smiled and cooed baby talk to him for a few moments before she left.
Chase returned to the kitchen, where the pumpkin-spicy smell of the baking welcomed her again. She couldn’t get enough of it. She and Anna were the co-owners of the Bar None, their pride and joy and joint business venture. Though Anna was Chase’s senior by quite a few years, she was also her surrogate grandmother and the woman who had helped raise her after her parents passed away. For the most part, they got along. Anna used to sneak cookie bar crumbs to Quincy, which didn’t help his weight problem. But now that Chase had perfected the Kitty Patty treats, Quincy was slimming down a bit and Chase didn’t have to always worry that Anna was sneaking things to him. A big source of conflict had evaporated with the creation of the Kitty Patties.
“Ms. Oliver?” Inger’s faint voice drifted back to the kitchen.
Chase rushed to the front room, where she found Inger Uhlgren slumped over the glass display case, clutching the edges with whitened knuckles.
“What’s the matter?” Chase lifted the hem of her own Bar None smock and wiped Inger’s damp forehead. Inger’s blonde curls were matted against her wide, usually clear brow, which was now pinched and furrowed.
“Anna!” Chase put her arms around the young woman, and when Anna rushed to their side, the two of them managed to help Inger into the office, where there was a chair with arms and a back.
“Go,” said Anna. “Call someone. I’ll stay with her.”
“Who should we call, Inger?” Chase asked. She knew someone should man the salesroom for a few more minutes, but maybe they needed an ambulance more urgently than anything else.
“I’ll be okay.” A bit of color was returning to Inger’s pale face. “I had a dizzy spell. If I sit for a few minutes, I’ll be able to get back to work.”
Quincy approached, sniffed Inger’s shoes, then jumped into her lap, where she stroked him a few times before dropping her hand into her lap.
Anna fanned Inger’s glistening face with a folder from the desktop. “You’ll do no such thing. We’re nearly ready to close. You’re not going back to work. You need to see a doctor.”
“No, really, I don’t. I get these spells. When it’s over, I’ll be all right.”
Anna and Chase shot each other doubtful looks, but Chase left them, making certain that Quincy was in the office when she closed the door. The rascally cat had a real skill for escaping at exactly the wrong times and getting into exactly the wrong things. In the past, he’d led Chase into some trouble.
Today, though, her problem was Inger, the model employee they’d hired a few weeks ago. She hadn’t been feeling well lately and this wasn’t the first time Chase had worried about her.
As soon as Chase returned from the front, having drawn the shades, flipped the sign, and locked up, Inger stood.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll go home now.”
“Do you need one of us to take you home?” Anna asked.
“No, I can drive. Thanks, though. I feel bad about not staying to help clean up.”
“We wouldn’t think of letting you do that when you’re sick like this. Let us know if you can’t make it in tomorrow morning,” Anna said. She ran and got Inger’s jacket from the hook by the door that led to the parking lot behind the store.
“Thanks, Mrs. Larson. Thanks, Ms. Oliver. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
“Call me Chase.” Chase studied her as she walked out to the parking lot. Her gait was steady, but she was still pale as she made her way to her old, faded red sedan.
Quincy scooted out of the office, since the door was standing ajar, into the kitchen, to perform his customary countertop prowl. Since he’d been put on a strict diet, Chase took extra care not to leave fattening bits of baking debris for him to find. She thought she had convinced Anna to be careful of his weight, too. Still, he managed to scare up a few crumbs almost every night. When he was finished, one of the women sanitized the countertops as part of their own nightly ritual.
Anna was taking baking sheets out of the dishwasher when the office phone rang, so Chase ran to answer it.
When she heard the deep, rumbly voice of Dr. Michael Ramos, her heart sped up.
“How’s my favorite patient?” he asked.
“Quincy is doing well. He hasn’t gotten into anything he shouldn’t have for over a week now.”
“Glad to hear it. I have some news. Aren’t you and Anna renting a booth at the Bunyan County Harvest Fair this year?”
“Yes, Julie thought it would be a good idea.” Julie, Anna’s granddaughter, was also Chase’s best friend and had been since they’d grown up together.
“I think it’s a good idea, too. You’ll probably sell a lot of dessert bars, and you’ll get valuable advertising. A lot of locals get an early start on Christmas at that fair.”
Chase didn’t want to tell him that October 18 was too early for people to buy their consumables and have them last until the holidays, unless they froze them. That gave her an idea, though. They would hand out freezing instructions with their wares. If, that is, they were still able to do the fair.
“I don’t know if this will work out,” Chase said, opening a file on the computer and typing in the freezing instructions while she clamped the phone between her ear and shoulder.
“What’s the problem?”
“Inger has been feeling ill for the last two weeks.”
“That’s a long time. Has she seen a doctor?”
“No, she’s usually nauseated in the morning, then feels better by afternoon. Today, though, she felt faint just before closing.”
“I’m not a people doctor, but you know what that sounds like, don’t you?”
“No. What do you think is wrong with her?”
“I think she’s pregnant.”
Anna wrestled the clumsy wicker basket onto the display table in their booth with a grunt.
“What are you doing?” Chase rushed to help her, but was too late. “That basket is too heavy for one person.”
“Oh, pooh. My laundry basket weighs more than this.”
They had stuffed the pretty basket full of dessert bar packages this morning before they left to set up their booth for the opening of the fair and bazaar tomorrow. Anna thought they could use the basket as part of their display. Anna, a seamstress wizard, had lined it with pink-and-purple-striped cloth before they’d filled it. The table was rather small, but Chase thought they could make it work.
“Let’s tip the basket and put the dessert bars half in and half out,” Chase suggested.
“Oh, like they’re tumbling from the basket, right? Great idea, Charity.” Anna started unpacking the small boxes onto the top of the table so they could set up the arrangement.
A gust of wind stirred the back tarp slightly, and it flapped against the supporting poles.
The booths were set up along the sawdust strewn midway at the Bunyan County Fairgrounds. They were nine-by-nine tents, each furnished with a five-foot table and two folding chairs for the price of the display space. Chase hadn’t looked around yet to see who the other vendors were, but she wanted to take a walk along the entire concourse after they set up and before they left tonight.
The tinkling music of an electric calliope came from the direction of the traveling carnival that was setting up in part of the huge visitor’s parking lot. The rides were mostly children’s rides, including a merry-go-round (with the electric music), a small roller coaster, a train ride with a fancy old-fashioned locomotive, and, for the brave, a Tilt-A-Whirl. Chase thought they must be trying things out today.
Several booths of carnival games lined up at the edge of that lot. Chase used to be a fair hand at ring toss. Maybe she would get a chance to see if she could still do it. Later, after things were well under way, of course.
The main attractions at the fair were the butter sculpture competition and the pet contests. Chase was glad the booths were set up on the path leading to the exhibit building and close to the butter sculpture location.
She wasn’t sure what the sculpture contest entailed, but was eager to find out. Julie had started to tell her, but their phone conversation had been cut short by a wave of Bar None customers. All she knew was that the Bunyan County Fair had held the competitions for years, and she remembered seeing some when her parents took her to the fair as a young child.
A shadow fell across the opening to the booth. Chase turned to find Quincy’s veterinarian running an appreciative eye over what they’d done so far.
“I like the banner with your logo. The stripes are eye-catching.”
“Mike,” Chase said. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m the vet for the fair. That’s the news I meant to tell you last night.”
“The fair needs a vet? I guess I haven’t read up on it enough. Is there livestock?”
“No, not actual farming livestock.”
“I thought I saw a man unloading a sheep or a goat in the parking lot.”
“There aren’t any blue ribbons for farm animals, but there are a lot of pet contests. All the farm animals you’ll see here are pets. There’s an obstacle course for dogs and a Fancy Cat Contest. You might consider entering Quincy. But how’s Inger today?”
“She came in to work this morning,” Anna said. “I told her we’ll open limited hours all next week, since she’ll be there alone. One of those days she can close up early, or completely, and get herself to a doctor.”
“Yep, that’s what Anna told her.” Chase had her doubts Inger would see a doctor. She hadn’t seemed eager to do that. “I’ll run back to check on Quincy this afternoon, and I’ll also see if Inger is having any trouble. If she is, I’ll either stay or close the shop.”
“Good idea,” Anna said. “I can always go back, too. Between us, we’ll get Inger taken care of.”
No one noticed when the packages that were in the basket began to shift and quake. None of the three even saw the bright amber eyes peer over the top. The cat was able to leap out of the basket, land behind the table, and squeeze under the tarp that formed the back wall. Free of the confines of the basket, though the contents had provided good eating, he waddled along the aisle of booths, looking for something more to nibble on.
“Did you see what I think I just saw?” Mike stepped into the booth and peered at the packed-dirt floor behind the table.
Chase’s cell phone trilled. “It’s Inger.”
“I hope she’s okay.” Anna leaned close to overhear the conversation.
“Call me Chase, Inger.”
“Okay. Quincy isn’t here. I just went in to give him his midmorning snack, and—”
“Midmorning snack? Who told you he gets one of those?” Chase frowned at Anna. Was she still spoiling the cat with too many treats?
Anna backed away from the phone and resumed unpacking a box.
“Mrs. Larson said she gives him one every day.”
It was a wonder he hadn’t been gaining more weight. Chase glared at Anna’s back. “Has the outside door been open?” she asked Inger.
“No. We haven’t even had any deliveries. I know he didn’t go out the front door. The thing is, the office door was closed. I don’t know why he’s not in here.”
Chase closed her eyes and tried to picture the flurry when they were packing up this morning. Had she seen Quincy when she’d latched the office door? She couldn’t remember.
Mike turned to face her. “Is Quincy missing?”
Chase nodded, then spoke to Inger. “Maybe I should come back and help look for him.”
When she was a child and Julie nicknamed her Chase, no one could have foreseen that she would spend so much time chasing a cat.
“I think I just saw him there.” Mike pointed at the tarp that formed the rear wall of the booth.
“Where?” Anna bent down and looked at the floor under the table.
“He left. He slid out under the tent.”
Chase told Inger she thought the cat was at the fair and cut the call short. “Are you sure you saw him?” she asked Mike.
“Not positive. It’s dark back there. But it sure looked like a critter jumped off this table and went underneath the tarp.”
“Great,” Chase said, planting her fists on her hips. “Quincy is loose again.”
After extensive exploring, the aroma coming from the cold building was too much for the cat to resist. It was true, he’d gotten a lot of treats up and down the path he’d been roaming, but this was incredible. The whole building was full of butter. After the heavy door was pushed open, he slipped in, unseen by the person entering. Two people started having a violent scuffle, which sent the cat under a table, crouching until the disturbance was over. After the one left and the other lay still on the floor, the cat picked a table with a large amount of the delicious-smelling stuff and sprang up. It was full of the wonderful goodness. He started licking. Butter. An almost infinite amount of it. Yum.
The three split up and Chase trudged past the booths. She bypassed the sturdy refrigerated building for butter sculptures, since the door was firmly shut. A sign hung on it that read “Keep Closed.” The jeweler next to it had seen him. He had even petted Quincy and fed him a potato chip from his snack stash. Chase paused at a booth with darling children’s clothing featuring colorful bird, fish, and butterfly accents. The two women there exclaimed how cute Quincy was. They had given him some cheese crackers. At a book vendor, she was told that her cat was so clever, he’d tried to open one of the books on the display table. They had slipped him a piece of ham sandwich. Everywhere she went, from the cupcake tent to one selling unique board games and fancy decks of cards, she was told how clever and darling her orange-striped cat was. Almost all of them had fed him. She wondered how he was still able to walk.
She visited the food concessions selling hot dogs and cotton candy and deep-fried concoctions, shuddering to think what they must have fed him. The people selling handmade banjos and the ones selling glass mobiles hadn’t given him anything, but had admired the “charming” animal. At a booth that gave out information about planting microchips into pets, she snatched a pamphlet after asking about Quincy. She would talk to them later.
The calliope music reminded her there was another midway, in the lot that held the rides and carny games. She walked past the food vendors and made her way along the line of barkers who were calling passersby to “step up” and “win a prize” for either “the little lady” or “the kiddies.” At each booth, she hoped to see her chubby buddy perched on a ledge or nestled in with the pastel plush tigers and bears. At least these fair workers hadn’t handed out any treats to Quincy. None of them had even seen him.
She trudged back toward her booth. The sun was warm and raised a dusty, pleasant smell from the sawdust. She’d covered almost the entire row of vendors twice. There was one she had skipped. The booth to one side of theirs was empty, except for the standard table and two chairs. A cardboard placard read “Harper’s Toys.” She gave it a cursory search, but it provided no hiding places and held no food.
Two booths away from the one for Bar None, she paused when she saw a familiar figure. Mike stood a head taller than the other two people he was with, a young woman and an older one.
“No, I’m not sure where it is,” the younger woman was saying to the older one. An abundance of glossy black tresses tumbled below her shoulders and swung when she shook her head. She sounded stressed.
“Your grandfather will kill you when he finds out you took that collar.” The other woman ran a hand up and down the strap to her shoulder bag. “He has enough on his mind right now and he thinks you’ve quit taking things that don’t belong to you.”
“I know. Don’t tell him, okay? I’ll find it.” The black-haired woman turned and entered the tent behind her. The sign above the door said “Fortunes Read.”
Chase approached Mike and the older woman.
“Hi,” Mike said. “I want you to meet my aunt Betsy. She’s my dad’s sister.” So Betsy was a Ramos by birth. She was much shorter than Mike, but had his same deep brown eyes and dark curls, hers cut short to frame an oval face with only a few age lines.
Anna came running up to the group. “Quincy isn’t all that’s missing, Charity. The Hula Bars—”
“Mrs. Larson.” Mike smiled at Anna. “I’d like you to meet my aunt Betsy.”
Anna halted and waited a few seconds until her breathy panting slowed down. “Pleased to meet you.” They shook hands. “We’re very fond of your nephew. But, Charity”—she turned to Chase—“Quincy got into the Hula Bars.”
Chase gasped. “Are they ruined? How many? Are there any left?”
“He destroyed ten boxes.”
“He ate ten boxes of dessert bars?” Mike’s jaw dropped. “I didn’t think even Quincy could eat that much.”
“No, no. He didn’t eat all of them, only ruined them. I can’t tell how many bars are completely gone, but those boxes can’t be sold. They’re clawed to pieces.”
Chase’s heart dropped toward her sneakers. “Ten boxes? That’s almost all of the Hula Bars that we brought here. They’ve been our best seller since we introduced them. We needed those boxes to sell.”
“We do have a ton of Harvest Bars, but you’re right. I guess we’ll have to make some more tonight.” Anna’s brow furrowed beneath her silver curls, and her blue eyes grew somber.
“Thank goodness he didn’t destroy the Harvest Bars. Where is that rascal?” Chase clenched one fist inside the other until her knuckles were white.
“He’ll come back. One of us has to start baking soon.” Anna gave Chase a look that said Chase should do it. “If you stay here, you’ll worry yourself to death over Quincy. I’ll finish setting up and you can look in on Inger.”
Chase resisted the notion of leaving with Quincy on the loose, but Anna finally convinced her. She had searched everywhere and didn’t know what else she could do. “Okay, Anna. I’ll head back in a few minutes. Call me the second he shows up. “
Anna agreed. They said good-bye to Mike’s Aunt Betsy and trudged toward their booth, leaving Mike chatting with his aunt. Chase assumed he’d tell her what a terrible cat owner Chase was, not able to control her animal’s weight, or even his whereabouts.
Chase glanced back to see if they were whispering and pointing at her. But Aunt Betsy was walking away as Mike ducked into the fortune-teller’s booth. She wondered, briefly, what had been troubling the young woman, and how she knew Mike. The man had a talent for collecting attractive females.
Before she left, she helped Anna finish unpacking the goods that weren’t ruined.
“Anna, about that midmorning snack that Inger mentioned,” Chase started.
“I made sure she was going to give him a Kitty Patty. It wasn’t anything he shouldn’t have.”
“But he doesn’t need an infinite amount of those, you know. I usually give him one about midday, not midmorning.”
Anna gave Chase a pained look and turned away to arrange their price list on a plastic stand. A stack of the fliers describing how to save dessert bars for the holidays lay beside the stand. Anna knocked a few of them off the top of the pile and Chase bent down to retrieve them.
As she straightened, they both heard a scream. Chase threw the papers onto the table and she and Anna ran outside their booth to see what was going on.
The butter sculpture building was on the far side of the fortune-teller’s booth and a jewelry kiosk, four booths away from the Bar None. Several people were running toward it. Anna and Chase followed the gathering crowd.
A young man in a security uniform came up behind them and pushed his way through. “Excuse me,” he repeated. “Emergency, let me through.”
Within minutes, the onsite ambulance pulled up, lights flashing, the siren giving short burps, and paramedics rushed into the structure. In a few more minutes, two policemen came running and entered the exhibit space as well. That exhibition space was more than a tent, since it had to be refrigerated to keep the butter from melting. It was temporary but had wooden walls and a door. The door was closed and no one could see in, although Chase tried to peek every time it opened to admit someone else. More police arrived. A woman stood sobbing outside the entrance. Her face was red and splotchy.
Chase saw the young woman from the fortune-telling booth, the one Mike and his aunt had been talking to, at the opposite edge of the crowd. She chewed her knuckles with a worried look. She didn’t take her eyes from the closed door.
After a very long time, it seemed, paramedics emerged from the butter sculpture building pushing a gurney. The figure on it was covered with a sheet. Chase’s hand flew to her mouth. Anna grabbed her other hand and they held on tight. How awful that someone had passed away the day before the fair started.
The woman who had been outside the building now followed behind the gurney, silently weeping. She was dressed in a long, red, swishy skirt and cowgirl boots and had a stylishly shaped short hairdo. Chase surmised that someone had had a heart attack. Maybe a man, and this was his wife. Did butter sculptors eat a lot of butter? Were they an unhealthy bunch? The crowd parted to let them wheel the body to the ambulance, waiting a few feet away. The woman spoke with the paramedics, who shook their heads at her and closed the back bay doors.
The two policemen were the next to emerge. They led a tall, handsome man to their squad car. When he looked up to scan the crowd, he gave a shake of his head to the fortune-teller. Then he turned toward Chase. It was Mike Ramos!
Chase felt her knees weaken as she watched Mike being led away toward the police car.
“Ma’am.” A policewoman appeared beside her, holding Quincy. “Dr. Ramos said this was your cat. He sure is a handsome fellow.”
Taking the cat, Chase tried to speak, but couldn’t get any sounds out at first. “What . . . why . . .” She cleared her throat. “Is Dr. Ramos being arrested? What for?”
“He’s being brought in for questioning.” The woman left abruptly before Chase could ask her anything more. What was going on? It was like he was being . . . What was a good word? Detained?
Anna reached over to give the frightened cat in Chase’s arms a head rub. “Did you look inside there when we were searching for Quincy?” She nodded toward the building Mike Ramos had come from.
“No. I didn’t see how he could get inside. The door was closed.” Quincy nuzzled against Chase’s arm and left a smear. He had something oily on his whiskers. Butter?
“That doesn’t always stop Quincy,” Anna said. “But what’s happening to Mike Ramos?”
Chase shook her head. It was all too bewildering.
Another car pulled up onto the midway as the ambulance drove away with the body, leaving the weeping woman behind. Out of the newly arrived car stepped Detective Niles Olson.
“Uh-oh, look who’s here,” Anna said. “That dead man must have been murdered.”
“Figures he would show up,” Chase said. She had a strange relationship with the tall, good-looking homicide detective and a checkered history. Now she really wondered if Mike was being detained.
The man’s impossibly dark blue eyes scanned the crowd, lingering on Chase for an extra second before he entered the building.
“What should we do?” Chase asked.
“There’s nothing we can do. Dr. Ramos can take care of himself. If he needs help, he’ll ask. I’m sure they’ll let him go soon. He must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Chase stole looks over her shoulder at the female police officer leaning into the squad car to talk to Mike as she and Anna returned to their own booth with Quincy purring in Chase’s arms.
“You bad fat cat,” she murmured, burying her face in his soft orangey fur. It smelled faintly of butter. He looked like he’d gained at least a pound eating the dessert bars and the handouts during his travels. “If you really think we can’t do anything for Mike Ramos, I’ll take Quincy back to the shop now and see how Inger’s doing.”
“And bake some more Hula Bars,” Anna said.
“Yes, and that. You’ll be okay here doing all the work alone?”
“With the size of our space, it might be easier for me to finish setting up by myself. I’ll be fine.”
In spite of Anna’s certainty about Mike being able to take care of himself, Chase wanted to ask Julie if her defense attorney friend Jay Wright was available just in case. She called her on her way home, but the call rang over to voice mail. Chase hardly ever phoned Julie in the middle of her workday, and it was reasonable that her personal cell was turned off. She decided not to leave a message and that she would try to call again later.
When Chase got back to the Bar None, it was lunchtime. After closing Quincy into the office, she briefly told Inger everything that had happened. Inger had met the veterinarian and expressed concern for him, but Chase repeated what Anna had said. There was nothing they could do for him. Unless, Chase thought, she could get Jay Wright to free Mike from the clutches of the police.
She asked Inger how business had been in the morning.
“Slow. Really slow.” Inger looked pale again today.
“Can you see a doctor this afternoon if we close up?”
“I don’t really have a doctor, but I can go to the clinic.”
“I think you should. You’ve been feeling bad for too long.” Chase waited for Inger to tell her she was pregnant. If Inger knew she was pregnant, that was.
“It’s crazy. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I mostly only feel bad in the morning.”
Maybe she really had no clue. “You need to see a doctor,” Chase urged. “Right away.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll do it.”
Chase smiled at her. “Make sure you do. It might be important.”
Inger looked puzzled. Yes, she had no clue. “How’s Quincy after his adventure?”
“He’ll live.” She didn’t want to detain Inger further with the details of his escapades at the fair. She’d tell her later. But Chase did take a moment to wonder how Quincy had gotten inside the building where the man died, and from where Mike Ramos emerged, escorted by the police. She hoped he would be questioned and released quickly.
“How did he sneak into the basket in the first place?” Inger asked.
“How does he sneak anywhere? The cat has skills.”
After Inger left, saying she would go straight to the clinic, Chase baked five dozen more Hula Bars. They packaged six bars to a box, so that would make up for the ten boxes Quincy had gotten into.
She tried Julie again with the same result. This time she left a message to call her back as soon as she could. She also tried to call Mike to see if he had been let go, but he didn’t answer either. It was maddening! She had no idea what was going on.
Tanner had sent her an e-mail saying he already had a mock-up of a website ready. She went to the computer in the office to look at it. She hadn’t given the young man the office number because she didn’t want Anna answering the phone when he called, so he only had Chase’s cell phone number.
Quincy stretched, putting his front paws on her lap before jumping up and settling in.
She opened the file and paused, then knocked back against the chair with her mouth agape. Quincy flinched, but didn’t jump down. It was stupendous, given what he had to work with. It was just what she had imagined, with placeholders for the pictures she hadn’t sent yet. The home page displayed the address, phone number, and a map that could be used to get directions to the Bar None. Across the top was a banner in pink and white stripes, to match the wallpaper, with the shop name and sketches of dessert bars scattered in among the letters. Tabs for “Products” and “Ordering” and “Contact” were empty. She had a lot of material to send to him yet.
Tanner had been more observant than she thought on his one visit, last week, when Anna was out. She could imagine what Anna would think if she saw him, with his nose and eyebrow rings, not to mention the colorful dragon tattoo on the inside of his arm. He had a habit of running his glossy black fingernails through his shaggy brown hair when he was hunkered down at Chase’s computer.
The timer in the kitchen dinged and she hurried in to take out the last batch of bars, dumping her cat onto the floor and slamming the office door shut behind her.
While she was waiting for the bars to cool, Quincy made a racket in the office.
“Oh, poor baby,” she said, going back into the office. “Sorry I abandoned you so rudely. Do you have a tummy ache from all that sugar you got into today? Such a bad boy.” Her actions contradicted her stern words as she swooped him up and gave him a cuddle. He’d missed his customary noon Kitty Patty, but Chase decided to forgo it today.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Fat Cat at Large:
"Every ounce a delightful new cozy mystery series."--Paige Shelton, New York Times bestselling author
"A delicious mix of desserts, stealthy stealing, feline foraging and murder!"--Fresh Fiction
"Charming...cozy mystery readers will be purring with delight."--MyShelf.com
"A fun new series...Quincy is a delight."--Kings River Life Magazine