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Purrfectly Dogged. Purrfectly Dead. Purrfect SaintNic Saint
Nic Saint

The Mysteries of Max Mysteries of Max Box Set 7

Nic Saint

Puss in Print Publications


The Mysteries of Max Box Set 7

Purrfectly Dogged

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

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Purrfectly Dead


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

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37


Purrfect Saint

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

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37


Excerpt from Purrfect Advice (The Mysteries of Max 22)

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The Mysteries of Max Box Set 7

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Purrfectly Dogged (The Mysteries of Max 19)

It was a day like any other when we first came across the horror: in the middle of the pavement, in front of our own home no less, a dog had done its business. Of course we could have shaken our heads and left it at that, but Harriet decided enough was enough and formed the first-ever Cat Committee for the Re-Education of Dogs or CCREC. We were going to make dogs use litter, like cats have done since the dawn of time (or since the litter box was invented).

Meanwhile, Odelia had her hands full with a missing persons case. The wife of Marge’s ex-boyfriend had disappeared, and her daughter begged Odelia to find her. And then there were all those werewolf sightings. Suffice it to say Odelia had plenty of material for her articles. So you might be inclined to think things were looking good for the Poole family.

Unfortunately we threw a spanner in the works when we asked Grandma Muffin to become a CCREC’er. Don’t look at me like that. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Gran really took the mission to heart, and things more or less went downhill from that point onward. Uncle Alec practically lost his job, the two ex-convicts Marge had taken under her wing clearly were up to no good, and a war between cats and dogs suddenly seemed like a very real prospect.

So was there a happy ending? Do turn the page and find out in Purrfectly Dogged, my latest tale about tails and trails.

Purrfectly Dead (The Mysteries of Max 20)

I was suffering from a slight case of ennui when I came upon the perfect solution: a new type of cat kibble that promised to fix my every problem. I probably should have known it was too good to be true, which just goes to show that even a feline who’s been around the block a few times can still be caught by surprise.

What definitely caught me by surprise was Gran’s announcement that she wanted to have another baby—a little brother or sister for Marge and Alec. No, they weren’t too excited about the prospect either. And then of course when that first zombie showed up one night, that’s when the trouble really started.

Am I going too fast? You’re saying I should back up a little? Well, all right, fine. But don’t say I didn’t warn you: this story turned out to be a real rollercoaster ride, and put both cats and humans through the wringer. Then again, isn’t that par for the course in Hampton Cove, that lovely small town where danger seems to lurk around every corner?

Purrfect Saint (The Mysteries of Max 21)

When Grandma Muffin announced she’d found religion, and started recruiting followers for her new church, I just figured it was par for the course. After all, Gran has always had an eccentric streak. But when Harriet decided to follow in Gran’s footsteps and teach us all about the meaning of life, it got my attention. And so it happened that the whole family headed downtown one night to attend their first Soul Science gathering, meeting Masters Omar and Sharif, the church’s charismatic leaders.

Tex, meanwhile, was facing some problems of his own. A handsome young doctor had moved in across the street and had set up his office, and Tex’s patients were changing doctors in droves, leaving Odelia’s dad close to despair. There was something very peculiar about this new doctor, though, and it wasn’t just that everyone was so crazy about him.

Soon we were all searching for the meaning of life and happiness, the location of our souls, and how to make this world a better place. And so when tragedy struck, it’s safe to say we were ill-prepared. I like to think that the events that unfolded made us all more spiritual, though. They certainly forced us to dig deep and look for our inner sleuths!

Purrfectly Dogged

The Mysteries of Max - Book 19

Chapter 1

Victor Ball was wending his way home on his bicycle after an evening spent at his favorite bar. His bike was swaying across the narrow dirt road, as its owner had had a teensy-weensy too much to drink.

Victor, a middle-aged man with a formidable handlebar mustache and a sizable paunch, was singing loudly and out of key. He was in excellent mood, which was not unusual after imbibing his body weight in alcohol, and if he had trouble navigating the road that led to his modest home, where his wife had presumably given up waiting for him and had retired to bed, he didn’t show it.

In fact it was a minor miracle that he managed to stay upright at all, but he did, and with every mighty push on his pedals he was another couple of inches closer to home.

And he would probably have made it, without aiming his rusty old bike into a ditch, if not suddenly a dark figure had loomed up large and menacing while crossing his path.

Victor, even though drunk as a skunk, still had the presence of mind to pull his brakes and stare at the figure. It was not the kind of thing a man in his state of inebriation was accustomed to: the figure wasn’t merely large and imposing, it was also possessed of the kind of sharp fangs and glittering red eyes one usually only sees in movies. Its furry hide was shiny and thick, its pointy ears erect, its lips drawn back into a menacing snarl.

If someone had asked him at that moment to describe the hideous creature, he would have told them it was a wolf, and a very strange wolf at that, for the creature was walking on its hind legs, its front paws clawing the air with distinct malice in mind.

And then, as the monster threw its head back and howled at the full moon, Victor finally did what any sane man in his position would have done: he uttered a broken cry of anguish and terror, dropped his bike, and ran off in the opposite direction as fast as his weak-kneed legs would carry him.

The monster, meanwhile, instead of pouncing on this easy prey—this plump and juicy victim—continued howling at that big ball of cheese in the sky, then turned on its mighty heel and vanished into the woods, presumably eager to scare another drunkard.

Chapter 2

Marge Poole was cleaning her attic. She’d long wanted to take a broom and a duster to the cluttered space and get rid of some of the stuff that had been piling up there for years, but had never found the time—or the willpower. But when she’d been up there the week before and had almost been crushed by a falling stack of books, she’d decided to tackle the matter head-on. So she’d changed into a set of old clothes, had tied a scarf around her head, and had mounted those stairs with a take-no-prisoners attitude.

And she’d just gone through the first rickety rack, when she’d come upon an old photo album and had been idly leafing through it with a wistful expression on her face.

The pictures in the album were of her and her first boyfriend Jock Farnsworth. She’d known Jock long before she’d ever met her current husband Tex, and seeing those old photos of her and Jock brought back a lot of memories.

And she’d been sitting there reminiscing, having forgotten all about attics that needed to be cleaned out, when a voice suddenly sounded from downstairs.

“Mom! Are you up there? Mom?”

“Up here, honey!” she shouted.

Her daughter Odelia’s head came peeping up through the attic door, a quizzical look on her face. “What are you doing?” she asked, glancing around at the cluttered space. “Yikes. Someone needs to clean this mess up.”

“Well, I was, actually,” said Marge, “but then I came upon this album full of old pictures and I kind of lost track of time.”

Odelia joined her and took the album. “Is that you? You look so young!”

“I do, don’t I? I was even younger than you are in these pictures. Sixteen, seventeen.”

“And who’s that guy with you?”

“Jock Farnsworth. We were boyfriend and girlfriend two summers long, until he broke it off and hooked up with Grace Beasley instead.” She still felt the sting of betrayal at the memory, even though she’d hardly thought about Jock or Grace for years.

“Jock Farnsworth, as in chicken wing king Jock Farnsworth?”

“Didn’t I tell you about him? I thought I did. Or maybe I didn’t. Yes, Jock and I were together for a while, until we weren’t. But then I met your dad and so all’s well that ends well. If I’d stayed with Jock I’d never have met Tex, so it was all for the best—even though I didn’t see it that way at the time.”

“Imagine that,” said Odelia as she leafed through the album. “The richest man in Hampton Cove could have been my dad.”

Marge laughed. “Yeah, I guess he could have been.”

“Are they still together, Jock and this Grace person?”

“Last time I heard they were.”

“I think I’ve seen his daughter at the office once. She’s Dan’s goddaughter.”

“Oh, that’s right. Isn’t Jock one of the Gazette’s main sponsors?”

“He is. Dan owes a great deal to the Farnsworth chicken wing bling.”

“Well, it’s all ancient history to me,” said Marge, closing the photo album and coughing at the cloud of dust this stirred up. “Want to help me clean up?”

“I can’t. I have a meeting with Dan. He told me to come down to the office pronto.”

“Did something happen?”

“No idea. Usually when it does he tells me over the phone.”

“Better get going then. You know Dan doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

“Are you sure you’ll be able to handle this, Mom? If you keep going down memory lane, you’ll never get this finished.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” said Marge. “I’ll ask your dad to give me a hand when he gets home.”

Odelia descended the creaky stairs and Marge put the photo album in a box with stuff she intended to keep, then took a deep breath and tackled the attic with renewed fervor, this time vowing not to let the ghosts of her dead past snag her attention again.

The Jock episode was ancient history. She’d long ago forgiven him for dumping her for Grace and she now decided not to devote another minute of her time to the man.

“Slow down, Victor,” said Chase. “You’re not making any sense.”

Chief Alec had walked into the interview room and took a seat on the edge of the table. “Still drunk, huh? I thought a night in the drunk tank would have sobered you up.”

“I’m not drunk, Chief!” said Victor. “I’m stone-cold sober!” His eyes were wide and red-rimmed, and his large mustache was trembling.

“He’s drunk,” said Chase. “He just told me the same story he told the desk sergeant last night.”

“About the werewolf?” Alec grunted.

“It was a werewolf, I swear!” said Victor. “I saw it as clearly as I’m seeing you! He was standing not ten feet away from me, growling and howling and he had these claws, at least three inches long, and his teeth were glittering and dripping with saliva!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Alec. “I think it’s time for you to head on home, buddy.”

“But I really saw it! It was going to attack me but I was too quick. I ran and ran and I came straight here—but when I told them what happened they didn’t believe me!”

“I know you came straight here, and my desk sergeant put you straight into the lockup, as you were drunk out of your skull, Victor.”

“I had a few too many to drink, that’s true,” Victor allowed, “but as soon as I saw that monster I sobered up. I swear I’m telling you the truth, Chief. You have to believe me.”

Chief Alec exchanged a look of understanding with his deputy, and Chase got up. “Let’s get you out of here,” he told Victor.

“But… aren’t you going to finish taking my statement? People need to be warned. You need to call in the army—the National Guard—the FBI!”

“We’ll call in Mulder and Scully,” said Chase, as he clasped a heavy hand on the man’s shoulder. “And you can tell them all about your encounter with that nasty werewolf.”

“And while I talk to this Mully Sculder, you’ll hunt that beast down, won’t you?”

“Oh, of course we will, Victor,” said the Chief with a grin. “We’ll go after that thing with everything we’ve got—don’t you worry. This is now my number one priority.”

“When the reporters show up, tell them I saw it first, will you? And make sure they spell my name right. That’s Victor with a C. And Ball with a B.”

“Let’s go, Victor with a C,” said Chase, and led the man out of the room.

“What a nut,” Alec muttered.

Chapter 3

“Just look at it, Max, Just take a good, close look.”

I didn’t have to take a good, close look. Even from a distance I knew what it was: dog poo.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Shanille. “An absolute disgrace.”

“You’re not wrong,” I said.

Even though Shanille had come to us with the problem, depositing it in our laps, so to speak, she wasn’t the first one to have noticed an issue that was troubling the entire feline community.

Dog poo was a problem that had long irked me, and I’d mentioned it to Odelia many, many times.

“You have to talk to your human,” Shanille said now. “She has to write an article about this. These dogs are defacing our beautiful town—they’re turning Hampton Cove into the garbage dump of the Hamptons. If this keeps up no tourist will want to visit our beautiful town and then where will we be? In the scrapheap of history! The doldrums!”

“It would be very peaceful,” said Dooley, who didn’t seem to grasp the big picture.

“I think Shanille is right,” said Harriet. “Dog poo is the biggest issue of our time. A major menace to public health and safety. Something we desperately need to address.”

“It’s pretty nasty,” Brutus agreed.

The five of us were standing around what could very well be the largest dog turd I’d ever come across in my long and illustrious career as a cat sleuth. And I didn’t even need to take a sniff to know whom it belonged to either: Marge and Tex’s neighbors had recently gotten a dog, and I had every reason to believe this turd belonged to that dog.

“People step in it,” Shanille pointed out as a man carefully sidestepped the pile of steaming dog dung and shook his head in annoyance. “Cats step in it. We all step in it.”

“I don’t step in it,” I pointed out.

“I step in it,” said Dooley.

“We all step in it,” Shanille insisted.

“Eww,” Harriet said as she visibly cringed.

“And then they drag that poo into their homes, and it gets smushed into their carpets and smeared across their nice hardwood floors. It gets dragged into nurseries and kitchens. It ends up in bathrooms and bedrooms. It’s hideous, it’s gross and it needs to be stopped. I know, for Father Reilly curses about the horrible muck every single day.”

“Father Reilly curses?” asked Dooley. “I thought priests weren’t supposed to curse?”

“He uses colorful language, but never takes the Lord’s name in vain,” said Shanille prissily.

Father Reilly is Shanille’s human, and runs one of the biggest churches in Hampton Cove. And since many people set foot in that church, I could only imagine the amounts of dog poo they trailed inside.

“Just think about it for a moment,” she said now. “Let’s take as a very conservative estimate that one out of ten people step in dog poo, and that all of those people drag that poo into my church. That’s a lot of dog poo to clean up for poor Father Reilly.”

“I’m sure Father Reilly doesn’t clean his church himself, though, right?” I said.

“No, he has a cleaning lady, but the principle still stands: someone has to clean up the poo. And why? Simply because dog owners refuse to clean up after their dogs. If you want a dog, you should accept the responsibility and remove the poo,” said Shanille with the kind of forcefulness that has served her well as director of cat choir. I mean, if you can wrangle the entire Hampton Cove cat community, you can wrangle anything.

“I don’t think it’s the owners that should take the responsibility, though,” said Harriet, who hates dog poo even more than the rest of us. Her gorgeous white fur is more susceptible to being sullied and soiled than mine or Dooley’s or Brutus’s.

“You don’t?” said Shanille.

“Of course not. Just look at us cats. We do our business nicely and hygienically in a litter box, which is conveniently scented so as not to let the foul stench upset sensitive noses. Afterward, we clean our tushies all by ourselves. Compare that to dogs. Do they use litter boxes? No, they simply pee against trees and poo on the sidewalk. Yuck! And then, to make matters worse, they don’t even clean themselves! Double yuck! So you can see how the responsibility of this dog poo crisis lies with the dogs, not humans.”

“I think it might be a shared responsibility,” said Brutus.

“No, sweetie pie, if we do our doo next to the litter box, is it Odelia’s fault, or Marge or Gran’s? No, it’s our mistake, and we should be the ones suffering the consequences. But if a dog does his business on the floor, nobody cares! And that’s the big issue here.”

“So what do you suggest?” asked Shanille.

“I suggest we immediately start a campaign to teach dogs to use a litter box, just like cats. I mean, how hard can it be? If we can do it, dogs can do it, too, right?”

“But dogs aren’t as smart as cats,” said Dooley. “Are they, Max?”

“No, obviously they’re not,” I said. “Otherwise they would have learned how to go on the potty a long time ago.”

“Human babies learn to go on the potty when they’re two or three,” said Harriet, “so why can’t we teach dogs to do the same? It would save us the agony of having to look at that.” She wrinkled her nose as she gestured at the big pile of doo, stinking up the street.

“It’s a disgrace,” Shanille repeated her earlier estimation. “But I don’t know if dogs are even capable of being potty-trained. I mean, like you said, dogs are pretty dumb.”

“Yes, but surely they’re not as dumb as that,” said Harriet.

“This is a historic day,” said Shanille, who, as a priest’s cat, possesses the gift of the gab. “This is the day when five cats decided not to take it any longer. When five cats took a stand and said, enough is enough! No more! We are going to tackle an issue that has plagued our community for far too long.” Her face had taken on an appropriately earnest expression. “We, ladies and gentlecats, are going to potty-train dogs.”

“Yes, we are,” said Harriet, sounding cautiously pleased.

“And may the world never be the same again,” Shanille added.

“Amen,” I said. Shanille always has that effect on me.

Chapter 4

Odelia, after her short detour to her mother’s attic, finally arrived at Gazette headquarters. She made a beeline for her editor’s office and when she burst in, saw that he wasn’t alone. A pretty young woman with auburn tresses and refined features sat across from him, looking teary-faced and visibly upset.

“Oh, finally,” said the young lady when Odelia entered. “You have to help me, Miss Poole. You have to help me find my mother!”

Odelia blinked. “Um…” She directed a questioning glance at Dan, but the white-bearded editor simply stared back at her, a grim expression on his face.

When he finally spoke, there was a catch in his voice. “I don’t believe you’ve met my goddaughter, Odelia. This is Alicia. Alicia, you know Odelia. My finest reporter.”

Odelia would have mentioned she was also Dan’s only reporter, but the moment didn’t seem to lend itself to levity. Instead, she shook the young woman’s hand and took a seat. “Such a strange coincidence. I was just talking about your dad with my mother.”

“Marge Poole. She works at the library, doesn’t she? She’s nice. Very sweet and kind.”

“She is,” Odelia confirmed.

“Alicia is Jock and Grace Farnsworth’s daughter,” said Dan. “Her mother has gone missing, and I want you to drop everything and help find her, Odelia. I don’t care what you’re working on—this is now your number one priority, you understand?”

Odelia didn’t understand a thing. “But if your mother has disappeared, shouldn’t you go to the police? They’re more equipped to deal with missing persons cases than I am.”

“I can’t go to the police. My father would kill me. He’s probably going to be extremely upset that I came here to talk to Uncle Dan, but I simply can’t stand it anymore.”

“Your father doesn’t want to involve the police? But why?”

“He thinks Mama didn’t disappear. He thinks she ran away… with her boyfriend.”

“Your mother has a boyfriend?”

Alicia nodded. “He’s an artist,” she said, as if that explained everything.

“And… you don’t believe they ran away together?”

“Mama would never leave without telling me. We’re very close—we’re more best friends than mother and daughter. She wouldn’t simply up and leave and not let me know. She simply wouldn’t.”

She’d pressed a tissue to her nose while tears still rolled across her cheeks.

“Look, it’s not because your father doesn’t want to involve the police that you can’t,” said Odelia. “She’s your mother, and if you have reason to believe her disappearance is troubling, you should tell my uncle. If you want I’ll come with you. Chief Alec is a very nice man and very capable. He’ll find your mother.”

“My father would never speak to me again. He thinks it’s bad enough the servants know, and now to involve the police…” She shook her head. “No way. Besides, what if he’s right? What if Mama simply ran away with her lover? The police aren’t going to be able to bring her back. She’s a grown woman. She’ll simply refuse to come with them.”

“See what I mean?” said Dan, who was clearly worried about his godchild. “You have to find Grace, Odelia. And if you’re worried about expenses, don’t be. I’ll pay you out of my own pocket to find her.”

“And I’ll pay you the rest,” said Alicia. “I just want to know what happened to her. If she did run away, that’s her business. I just want to know, so that I can stop worrying.”

“Do you know the name of this artist boyfriend?” asked Odelia, taking out her notebook and pencil.

“His name is Fabio Shakespeare. He’s a painter and he lives in a small cottage on our domain. Papa wanted to kick him out when he first started suspecting he was having an affair with Mama, but Mama convinced him not to. My parents have been living separate lives for years. They live in different wings of the house, so it’s not as if Mama was really doing anything wrong when she got involved with Fabio.”

“What do you know about this Fabio?”

“Oh, he’s wonderful. A real genius. You should see his paintings. He painted my portrait, too, and it’s the most amazing thing.”

She clearly seemed taken with this painter, Odelia thought. “So you didn’t mind that your mother was having an affair with him?”

“No, I was happy for her. Very happy. Papa is… a difficult man to live with. Even I find him hard to tolerate. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my father, but he’s very tough and demanding—not sweet and loving, like Fabio, and definitely not a romantic.”

Odelia nodded. “Do you think your dad will mind if I ask him a couple of questions and snoop around?”

“No, I think it’s fine, as long as you promise not to tell anyone.”

“Be discreet,” said Dan. “Be very discreet, Odelia. And Alicia, tell your dad I’m not going to print anything about this. This is not newspaper business to me—this is personal.”

“Oh, thank you so much, Uncle Dan,” said Alicia, as she rounded the desk and gave her godfather a big hug. “I won’t forget this.”

“It’s the least I can do for my precious goddaughter,” said Dan warmly.

“So when did your mother disappear, exactly?” asked Odelia.

“Um… the last time I saw her was the day before yesterday. At breakfast. We were supposed to head into town that afternoon to do some shopping, but she never showed up. And then the next day when I checked her room I saw that her bed hadn’t been slept in. I decided to tell Papa, who hadn’t even noticed Mama had gone missing, and he told me to wait another day, just to be sure. And so this morning, when I told him Mama was still nowhere to be found, he told me in no uncertain terms I shouldn’t get the police involved, and that Mama had probably eloped with Fabio.”

“Did you check to see if Fabio is gone, too?”

“I did. Immediately. And he’s gone. Packed his bags and disappeared.”

“So that would suggest your father is right.”

“I guess so, but like I said, Mama would never leave without telling me. She simply wouldn’t.”

“Have you tried calling her?”

“Of course. I’ve called and texted—but she’s not picking up and not responding to my texts. Oh, Miss Poole, you have to find her. I’m so scared something bad has happened.”

“I will find her, Alicia,” she said, even as she wondered if she was making a promise she wouldn’t be able to keep. “Trust me.”

Chapter 5

Gran walked out of the house and closed the door behind her. As she passed us, presumably on her way to the office, she paused. “What’s going on here? Are you guys having a meeting?”

“Yes, we are,” said Dooley promptly. “We’ve just formed the first-ever Cat Committee for the Re-education of Canines, also known as the CCREC.”

“Crack? What crack?” asked Gran. “I don’t see no crack.”

“We want to teach dogs not to poo in the street,” Harriet explained.

“Yes, we want to re-educate dogs. Make them more like cats,” Shanille added.

Gran guffawed. “Good luck with that!”

“But, Gran, just look at it. Isn’t it a disgrace?” said Harriet, gesturing to the still steaming pile of dog dung.

Gran looked at the evidence of a dog’s bowel movement and frowned. “Who left that there?”

“I think it belongs to Rufus,” said Harriet. “Marcie and Ted’s new dog?”

“Not on my watch!” said Gran, and immediately stalked over to Marcie’s doorstep and mashed the bell with her finger.

“Your Grandma Muffin could be a most formidable ally,” said Shanille.

We watched on as the door opened and Marcie appeared. She’s a dark-haired slender woman of Marge’s age, and very sweet. “Oh, hey, Vesta,” she said. “So nice to see you.”

“What were you thinking, Marcie?” said Gran, shaking her head. “What were you thinking when you left that stinking heap of stinky doo stinking up my sidewalk?!” She pointed an accusatory finger at the turd.

Marcie looked past Gran and frowned. “That’s not mine.”

“I know it’s not yours. It’s your dog’s.”

“Impossible,” said Marcie. “Ted always picks up after Rufus. He would never leave our baby’s doo-doo just lying around for people to step in. No way. Nuh-uh.”

“My cats think it’s Rufus’s, and my cats are never wrong,” said Gran, and too late realized her faux-pas.

“How would you know what your cats think?” asked Marcie with a laugh. “Unless the rumors are true, and you Poole girls really can talk to your cats.”

“Never mind,” Gran grumbled, and executed a strategic retreat. “I shouldn’t have said that,” she muttered when she’d joined us on the sidewalk again. “Now Marcie will blab about it everywhere she goes. That’s the way she operates.” She stared at the heap of poo. “How sure are you that this belongs to Marcie’s dog, on a scale of one to ten?”

“Ten,” said Harriet immediately. “All excrement has a particular scent, and I needed only one sniff to know this particular pile belongs to Rufus.”

“Mh.” Gran directed a not-so-friendly look at Marcie’s house, where presumably Marcie was at that moment watching us from behind her curtains. “You know what? You cats just gave me a fantastic idea. A real scorcher.”

And without further explanation, she took off and left.

“So now what?” asked Brutus.

“Now we start our re-education campaign,” said Harriet. “And we begin with the culprit of this here eyesore.”

“You’re not serious,” said Brutus. “You’re going to try and re-educate Rufus?”

“Yes, I am,” said Harriet, “and so are you.”

“Ugh,” said Brutus, and I like to think that he spoke for all of us.

I mean, it’s one thing to engage in idle talk about the re-education of dogs and teaching them how to be potty-trained, but another to actually go out and do it. Dogs, you see, don’t take kindly to interference from cats, and Rufus is a big dog. A sheepdog. Those big and woolly ones? Sometimes I think there must have been a woolly mammoth among his forebears. I hadn’t really made Rufus’s acquaintance, apart from the occasional greeting across the fence, but if there is one thing a long life lived in Hampton Cove has taught me, it is always to steer clear of dogs, especially the really big ones.

We don’t bother them, and they don’t bother us. Peaceful coexistence if you will.

But Harriet was already on her way over, and so we followed. We couldn’t very well backtrack now, even though Shanille herself had suddenly turned a little thoughtful at this denouement.

“Are you sure this is a good idea, Max?” she asked as we stepped into Marge and Tex’s backyard.

“I think it’s a terrible idea,” I said, not mincing my words. “But you know what’s an even worse idea? To try and stop Harriet once her mind is made up about something.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Shanille. “Remember I tried to take away her solo spot on the choir? She hasn’t stopped bugging me about it since. I’m starting to think I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I’d simply let her keep it.”

“That’s generally the best way to deal with Harriet,” I agreed.

“Hey, you guys,” said Dooley, “do you realize that CCREC sounds like CRACK? Isn’t that funny?”

“Very funny, Dooley,” I said.

“Because we’re going to teach dogs to clean their—”

“Let’s keep it civil, Dooley,” said Shanille reproachfully.

“I was going to say back,” said Dooley. “As in backside?”

“Oh, that’s all right then.”

“Thanks, Shanille, and can I just say I think it’s wonderful what you’re trying to do? I stepped in dog doo just the other day and I didn’t like it. It was soft and squishy at first, but then it was stinky and horrible the next. Max had to help me clean it off, and it took a long time and it involved sticking my paw in a puddle of water, and it wasn’t a lot of fun.”

“It happened to me, too, Dooley,” said Shanille, “so I can definitely relate.”

“And then when it didn’t come off, we had to tell Odelia, and she decided to give me a bath and I hate taking a bath, don’t you? Water is so wet!”

“Water generally is very wet,” Shanille agreed.

“The dog doo had gotten stuck between my claws and my little pink pads, and Odelia had to use tissues and even a toothbrush at some point, and it tickled!”

“I can only imagine,” Shanille muttered.

“And then she had to throw away the toothbrush because she said she couldn’t use it anymore after she’d used it on me to clean away all of that dog excrement—I love that word dog excrement, don’t you, Shanille? Dog excrement. It’s such a funny word. I didn’t understand what she meant at first, but now I do. Dog excrement. So funny.”

“Oh, Dooley,” Shanille groaned, and I think she already regretted dropping by.

We’d finally reached the fence that divides Tex and Marge’s backyard from Marcie and Ted’s, and Harriet loudly said, “Rufus, oh, Rufus, where art thou?”

Unfortunately there is no hole in the fence, but there is a nice garden table on which us cats can jump to have a good overview of the backyard next door, so we did so now.

Rufus, who’d come lumbering up, directed a curious glance in our direction. He didn’t need a table to step on, as he can easily look across the fence. Yes, he’s that big. “Oh, hey, Harriet—hey, guys. So nice to see you. How are you?”

“Rufus, we need to talk,” said Harriet, adopting her best re-educationary voice.

“Oh, sure, Harriet,” said Rufus. “Anytime. Oh, hey, Shanille. Haven’t seen you around in a while. Everything all right? Father Reilly doing okay? Good. That’s great to hear.”

“He’s very nice,” said Dooley.

“Yes, he is very nice,” I agreed. Rufus is probably one of the nicest dogs we know.

“So the thing is, Rufus,” said Harriet, deciding not to get sidetracked by all this waffle from the peanut gallery, “that you left a horrible mess on the sidewalk just now.”

“I did? I wasn’t aware—I’m so sorry, Harriet. I’m truly very, very sorry.”

“Apology accepted, but that doesn’t change the fact that people are going to step in the product of your defecation. So here’s my suggestion. Why don’t you learn to go on the potty? It’s clean, it’s pleasant, and it’s a much better solution for everyone involved.”

“The… potty? What do you mean, Harriet? What is this potty you’re talking about?”

“Well, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the concept of the litter box?”

“I think I’ve heard about it, but I’ve never actually seen one,” said Rufus.

“Max. Please explain to Rufus what a litter box is,” said Harriet.

I stared at her. I’d had no idea she’d penciled me in for a starring role in this little pantomime of hers.

“Well, go on, then. Tell him.”

I cleared my throat. “A litter box is literally a box filled with litter, Rufus. You, um, do your business inside the box, and the litter absorbs all the annoying odors and whatnot. And then when it comes time to clean out the box, all your humans have to do is scoop out the affected litter, deposit it in a little plastic bag—or, in your case, a very large plastic bag—and put it out on trash day for garbage collection.”

“Easy-peasy, and so much fun!” said Harriet.

“It does sound like fun,” Rufus agreed. “And where can I find these litter boxes?”

“Um… I guess you’ll have to discuss that with your human,” said Harriet. “For your size and shape I’d advise the extra-large model. Possibly the extra extra extra large.”

“I’m not sure they have litter boxes for a dog of Rufus’s size,” I told Harriet.

“I’m not so sure either,” said Shanille, as she took in the voluminous mass of dog.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Harriet. “If people want litter boxes in Rufus’s size, the companies producing litter boxes will produce them. It is simply a matter of supply and demand. Now scoot and don’t forget to tell your human, Rufus.”

“Um… there’s only one problem with that,” said Rufus.

“Oh? And what’s that?”

“I can’t talk to my human.”

“Mh…” I could tell that Harriet was stumped for a moment. She turned to us and said, “Ad hoc meeting of the CCREC. How do we get dogs to tell their humans to buy them a litter box?”

It was a tough one, and for a moment we were all stumped, then suddenly Dooley said, “We could ask Gran to join the CCREC. And then she can tell the dog owners.”

“Excellent idea, Dooley!” said Harriet, and turned back to Rufus, who still stood eyeing us with a kindly expression on his furry face. “For now, try to familiarize yourself with the concept of the litter box, Rufus.”

“Like an Olympian,” said Dooley.

“Tell him, Dooley,” said Harriet encouragingly. “Tell Rufus how it is.”

“Well,” said Dooley, “Olympians visualize their victories. So you have to visualize stepping into the litter box, being inside the litter box, doing your business in the litter box… basically being the litter box.”

“Being the litter box,” said Rufus, nodding. “Gotcha.”

Harriet beamed and patted Dooley on the head, not unlike a circus director whose monkey has just performed a complicated trick.

Chapter 6

As Chase made his way to the copy machine, he noticed to his surprise how Dolores was seated behind one of the desks in the main office, going through a stack of files. He approached the desk sergeant. “Dolores? What are you doing? Shouldn’t you be behind your desk?”

“The Mayor told me to go and sit here,” she said in her typical smoker’s rasp. Her mascara was prominently applied, as usual, making her more than a little scary-looking.

“The Mayor? What do you mean?”

“He came by earlier and told me to sit here. When I asked him what I was supposed to do, he said to figure something out to keep me busy until he could arrange for my early retirement, so I just thought I’d do some filing. There’s always filing to be done.”

“But… if you’re here, who’s sitting at your desk?”

“Fiona,” she said acerbically.

Chase’s face darkened. “The Mayor’s niece?”

Dolores nodded. “She took my place. The Mayor said the precinct needed some livening up. Said he had received lots of complaints about me. About how my grumpy old mug scares people away.”

“He said that, did he?”

“Yes, he did. And then he told Fiona to take a seat and look pretty and he left.”

“Don’t go anywhere,” said Chase.

“Oh, I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’ll fix this.”

“Good luck with that,” she growled without much enthusiasm.

Chase stalked down the corridor and burst into the Chief’s office. “Did you know the Mayor just told Dolores to take a seat in the main office and put his niece in her place?”

“Yeah, he told me,” said the Chief, not looking happy.

“But he can’t do that!”

“He can. He’s the mayor.”

“And you’re chief of police. Just tell him he can’t just kick out Dolores!”

“He can and he did. And he also told me that if I make a fuss, he’s sure he’ll be able to find himself a new chief of police, too.”

Chase had planted his hands on the Chief’s desk and stared at the man. “He said that?”

“He did, and what’s worse—he means it. Ever since we played hooky at that conference he’s got it in for us, Chase. It wouldn’t surprise me if he decided to kick me to the curb. And as for you, it’s a miracle he hasn’t put you in charge of policing traffic on Bay Avenue yet.”

“He wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh, he would. He hates my guts, and now he hates your guts, too. It’s all falling apart, Chase. Thirty years on the job, and it’s all going to pieces. Soon I’ll be forced out, and you’ll be telling road ragers to please calm down.”

There was a knock on the door, and Officer Sarah Flunk stuck her head in. “Chief, Victor Ball says he wants a word.”

“Victor is still here? I thought you sent him on his merry way?”

“I did,” said Chase.

“Um… he says he’s afraid to go home,” said Sarah. “In case he runs into the big monster again. What is he talking about, Chief?”

“Never mind what he’s talking about,” said the Chief with a touch of pique. “Just send him home and tell him not to bother us again with his nonsense.”

“Will do, Chief,” said the officer, and retracted her head and closed the door.

“We can’t just let the Mayor take over,” said Chase. “Dolores has done that job for ages—probably since Hampton Cove was incorporated—and a damn fine job she’s done, too.”

“And so she has, but what do you want me to do? My hands are tied here, Chase.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t have flunked out of that conference,” Chase said now, plunking himself down on a seat.

They’d both recently gone to LA for a police conference, but the subject matter hadn’t appealed neither to Chase or Chief Alec, so they’d decided to play truant. Their absence had been duly noted, and the Mayor had been notified, and he hadn’t liked it. Possibly because the town had paid for the hotel and expenses.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure this conference business is just an excuse,” said the Chief. “He’s been wanting to put his niece in Dolores’s spot for weeks. Next stop: this desk,” he said, patting his own desk.

It was no secret the Mayor had big plans for his favorite niece. Preferably he’d like to see her run the police station as its first woman chief. And this was only the first step.

The door flew open again, and Victor Ball walked in, his mustache bristling. “You can’t send me home, Chief! That monster will be waiting for me, I just know it will!”

“If it was, don’t you think your wife would have called by now?” said the Chief.

“Alice! That thing will have eaten her alive! Oh, you have to send a squad car to take me home. Alice might still be alive if we hurry.”

“Oh, go on home, Victor.”

“But, Chief!”

“Go! Now!”

And Victor went, though without much conviction.

“I’ll talk to the Mayor,” said Chase. “I’ll tell him this is no way to treat a loyal police officer like Dolores.”

“Are you sure? He might decide to kick you off the force right then and there.”

“Let him try.”

The door flew open again, and this time the Chief’s mother burst in.

“I just had the best idea ever!” she announced.

“Ma, can’t you see I’m in a meeting?”

She ignored him and sat down next to Chase. “You’re going to start fining people who let their dogs do their business on the sidewalk. Step one. Then you’re going to announce your candidacy for mayor. Step two. And finally, once you’re mayor of this fine town of ours, you’re going to start campaigning for governor. And then, finally, for president! And I’ll be there every step of the way, don’t you worry, son. I’ll be your campaign manager. I know exactly how it works. I’ve seen it on TV.”

“Ma, how many times do I have to tell you? I don’t want to be mayor. I like being chief. And tell me something, how is fining dog owners going to help me become mayor?”

“Simple math! Thirty percent of the people in this town are cat owners, right?”

“If you say so.”

“Thirty percent are dog owners, and thirty percent got no pets. That means sixty percent of the people have to suffer because thirty percent refuse to pick up after their dogs. So if you go after the dog people hard, those other sixty percent are gonna be so grateful they’re gonna vote you into town hall. See? Math!”

“You left out ten percent of the population,” said Chase.

“Oh, don’t let’s split hairs,” said Vesta.

“Not so simple, Ma,” said Alec. “First off, like Chase already indicated, I’m not so sure about your numbers, and second, most people clean up after their dogs. It’s only a very small minority that doesn’t. And to go after those people all heavy-handed is not the way I like to do things as chief. You know that.”

“Well, you should. People love the Dirty Harry approach, not that namby-pamby community policing business. They want you to go in hard. Bust some heads and rattle some cages. You need to arrest those jaypoopers and you’ll be mayor in no time!”

“I’m not going to arrest people for not picking up after their dogs, Ma.”

“Look, you’re going to run for mayor and I’m going to be your campaign manager. And don’t argue with me, Alec Lip! I’m your mother and a mother knows!” And with these words she stalked out again, leaving the Chief to bang his head against the desk.

“What did I ever do to deserve this, Chase? What?!”

“I’m sure she doesn’t mean it, Chief.”

“Oh, yes, she does. Her campaign has already begun, and with the Mayor gunning for me, this is not going to improve my chances of staying in this chair for much longer.”

“Don’t worry, Chief. I’ll talk to the Mayor and you talk to your mother. We’ll fix this.”

But the Chief was not to be consoled.

Chapter 7

Marge walked into the library feeling like she’d forgotten something. And as she entered and closed the door behind her, she suddenly heard a loud banging sound. She smiled and headed to the staircase that led into the basement. Someone was working hard.

There were racks and racks of books and old files in the basement, and the banging sounds continued as she made her way in their direction. And then, as she reached the back wall, she suddenly remembered what it was she’d forgotten.

“Oh, you guys, I’m so sorry but I completely forgot,” she said as she addressed the two men hard at work there.

They both looked up, startled. Johnny Carew and Jerry Vale were two ex-convicts who’d recently been granted a lighter sentence. Instead of spending the remainder of their time inside, they’d been allowed to do community service instead.

So Marge had magnanimously agreed when their probation officer had asked if there was any chance they’d be able to work at the library to fulfill the terms of their service.

She wanted to have the basement redone, starting with the back wall, which was suffering from an acute case of mold and rot and needed to be torn out and rebuilt.

“I said I’d bake you a cake and I completely forgot,” she said.

“Oh, that’s all right, Mrs. P,” said Jerry, a smallish man with a face like a ferret.

“No cake?” asked Johnny, his partner in crime. He was a very large man with a perpetually dumb look on his large, square mug.

“I’ll bake you one tonight,” said Marge. “I promise. I had this sudden urge to clean out the attic this morning, and totally forgot about your cake.”

“Don’t sweat it, Mrs. P,” said Jerry. “Tomorrow is fine.”

She studied the wall with interest. “And? Have you discovered the source of that rot?”

“Nah, not yet,” said Jerry, who looked a little jumpy, Marge thought. “But we’re getting there, isn’t that right, Johnny?”

“Oh, sure, we’re getting there, Mrs. P,” said Johnny.

“Marge, please,” she said.

“Probably a neighbor with a leak in his bathroom,” said Jerry.

“Yeah, probably a leak,” said Johnny.

“Or bad plumbing.”

“Yeah, bad plumbing,” Johnny echoed.

“Well, I’ll leave you boys to it,” she said. “Yell if you need anything, all right?”

“Will do, Mrs. P—Marge,” said Jerry.

“No cake, Jerry,” she heard Johnny tell his friend as she started walking away. “I was really looking forward to that cake.”

“Oh, shut up, you moron. How many times do I have to tell you? You talk too much.”

“But, Jerry!”

“You talk too much!”

“But I like cake!”

“Shut up!”

And as she mounted the stairs, she told herself not to forget about that cake this time. Johnny obviously had been looking forward to it. He and Jerry might be criminals, but they were clearly well on the road to rehabilitation, and she’d decided she would do her bit to help them become upstanding citizens once more.

The two men had actually broken into Odelia’s house not so long ago, and had been caught red-handed by Odelia’s cats. But Marge believed in letting bygones be bygones, and in the power of forgiveness. So it was with a warm heart that she’d welcomed the two former crooks into her library.

And as the clanging and the banging resumed, she soon forgot about the basement, and her thoughts returned to Jock Farnsworth, and Jock’s wife Grace. It had been, what, thirty years now? And for no particular reason she found herself wondering how Jock was doing, and Grace. She knew they had a daughter, and she thought the girl would be twenty now. And as she found her mind incapable of staying away from the topic of her ex-boyfriend and his family, suddenly her own daughter walked in, looking solemn.

“Odelia? What’s wrong, honey?” she asked.

“Do you remember we were talking about Jock and Grace Farnsworth this morning?”

“What a coincidence! I was just thinking about them!”

“Well, Alicia Farnsworth dropped by the office just now. She thinks something happened to her mother and wants me to investigate.”

“Something happened to Grace? What do you mean?”

“She’s gone—disappeared. Jock claims she left with her boyfriend, who’s also disappeared, but Alicia claims her mother would never go off without telling her, and she has a feeling something must have happened to her. Something bad.”

“Oh, my God!”

“Yeah. Could you do me a big favor, Mom, and introduce me to Jock? Maybe smooth the path a little? He won’t be happy when he learns his daughter went behind his back and asked me to investigate his wife’s disappearance.”

Marge hesitated. “I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea, honey. Jock and I… it’s been a long time, and we didn’t exactly part in an amicable way.”

“But like you said, it’s been a long time, and you have spoken to him since, right?”

“No, I haven’t, not really. Oh, sure, I’ve seen him and Grace in town, but we’ve never spoken. He broke my heart, Odelia, and I was really upset for a very long time. I thought he was the one, you know, and then he met Grace and it turned out I wasn’t the one for him. Grace was.”

“Not anymore she’s not.”

“You say she was having an affair?”

“Yeah, with an artist who lives in a cottage on the domain. Guy called Fabio Shakespeare.”

“I think I’ve heard of him. Specializes in portraits?”

“Specializes in seducing rich married women, apparently.”

Marge thought for a moment, then decided that maybe this was a good opportunity to finally leave the past behind. And patch things up with Jock once and for all.

“You’re right,” she said. “It was a long time ago. And maybe it’s time to finally forgive and forget. When do you want to do this?”

“How about now? Can you close up the library for a couple of hours?”

“I could, but I’ve got an even better idea.”

Chapter 8

“We need recruits,” said Harriet, who’d now really and truly taken command of our new association. “We need every cat in Hampton Cove to educate every dog. It’s the only way. Otherwise this is going to take forever.”

“You know, you and I haven’t always seen eye to eye on everything,” said Shanille, “but I have to admit you’ve really taken this dog doo business well in paw, Harriet.”

“I think it’s important, Shanille. I think this may very well be the most important issue of our time. It touches on so many aspects of our lives: hygiene, discipline, respect for our fellow cats… If we can’t fix this, we need to ask ourselves who we are as a nation, you know?”

“She’s taking this really serious, isn’t she?” asked Brutus, a note of worry in his voice.

I understood where he was coming from. Harriet has a tendency to get carried away with any project she takes on, and this was one project she was digging her teeth into.

“If she keeps this up she’s going to antagonize every last dog in town,” Brutus said, “and then the streets won’t be safe for us to walk on.”

It was an aspect of the matter I hadn’t considered. There exists a very fragile peace between cats and dogs. The kind of peace that can be torn apart by a rash act like trying to coerce every dog into adopting the feline way of disposing of their doggie doo.

“Rufus took it pretty well,” I said.

“Rufus is a nice dog,” said Brutus. “A sweet mutt. But not all dogs are like Rufus, and if Harriet starts ruffling feathers, there’s no telling what might happen.”

“Don’t you mean ruffling dog hairs?” asked Dooley.

Brutus decided to ignore Dooley’s contribution. “Dogs may revolt. Turn on us en masse,” he said, painting an apocalyptic picture of a war between cats and dogs.

“Maybe you should tell Harriet to take it easy?” I suggested.

“Have you ever tried to tell Harriet anything? She isn’t one for taking things easy. She’s a can-do cat who doesn’t believe in taking prisoners.” He sighed. “Let’s just see what happens. Maybe Gran will be able to talk some sense into her.”

“I don’t know…” I said. Asking Gran to talk sense into someone is probably like asking a pyromaniac to put out a fire.

We’d arrived at the doctor’s office and now stepped inside. As I had suspected, Gran was seated behind her desk, but instead of playing Solitaire on her computer, like she usually does, she was busily typing away, twin red splotches on her cheekbones a testament to her excitement.

“Hey, Gran,” said Harriet as we walked behind the desk.

“Hey, you,” she said without looking up or taking a break from typing.

“We have a proposition for you,” said Harriet, not deterred by Gran’s obvious lack of interest in our presence. “We want you to join our newly formed association.”

“We want you to become a CCREC’er,” said Dooley proudly.

“Did you just call me a cracker?” said Gran, and finally stopped typing.

“Well, only if you want to,” said Dooley, slightly taken aback by her hard stare.

“Watch your tongue, young feline,” said Gran, wagging a menacing forefinger.

“Hear us out first,” said Shanille, deciding to intervene before things got ugly.

“Shanille? Shouldn’t you be helping Father Reilly convert a few more souls?” said Gran, who hasn’t been Father Reilly’s biggest fan ever since he told her that her soul would probably go to hell for cursing so much.

“Just listen to Shanille, Gran,” said Harriet. “And everything will become clear.”

“Clear as mud, probably,” Gran grunted, but still did as Harriet suggested. And Shanille had barely launched into her speech, when Gran cried, “Serendipity!”

“Sara who?” asked Dooley.

“I was just talking to my son about this! I’m all on board with your scheme, guys. In fact I think I have an even better idea. You know I can’t talk canine, right? But you can. So what I would suggest is we go door to door, and while you talk some sense into those four-legged mutts, I’ll talk to their feeble-brained owners—how does that sound for a plan?”

“Are all dog owners feeble-brained, Gran?” asked Dooley.

“Of course they are. If they had any sense they would have taken a cat, not a dog. But let’s not get distracted. We need to organize this properly, and we need to make it clear this campaign is officially sanctioned by our very own chief of police. Got that?”

“But why, Gran?” asked Harriet.

“Because I said so,” she snapped. “Now let’s get going. No time to waste!”

Tex, who’d just stepped out of his office to see what all the fuss was about, saw his receptionist grab her purse and so he asked, “Are you leaving already, Vesta?”

“Of course I’m leaving! Can’t you tell?”

“But… you’ll be back soon, right?”

“Depends.” She lifted her chin. “I’ve decided to become a cracker, and I’m on a mission—a mission officially sanctioned by your next mayor—Alec Lip. Watch me roar!” And with these words, she left a mystified Tex staring at her retreating back.

“Don’t you think Tex will wonder what this is all about?” asked Harriet once we were outside and making good time.

“Who cares? This mission is bigger than Tex. We’re about to write history here, fellas. If we can pull this off—make Hampton Cove a doo-doo free zone—it will prove infectious, and soon the county will adopt this new policy, and then the state, and the country! And by the time my son is crowned president, we’ll have started a revolution!”

“I don’t think presidents are crowned,” I said.

“Who cares! I’m walking into the White House as the first woman on the planet who achieved the unachievable. They’ll give me medals. They’ll give me rewards. I might even win the Nobel Prize. But do I care? Not a frickin hoot! All I care about is teaching America how to make their dogs go doo-doo on the box. And that’s good enough for me.”

“Oh, boy,” said Brutus. “She’s as nuts as Harriet and Shanille.”

And he was right. It’s one thing to tell people to clean up after their dog, but quite another to order them to potty-train their dogs. People have a tendency to rebel when told to do things, but dogs have a tendency to bite you if you try such a thing.

I had a feeling this town would soon not be safe either for us or Gran.

Chapter 9

The door opened and Odelia found herself staring into Alicia’s smiling face. “Come in,” she said. “Papa is in the library. I told him you were coming, so you should be good.”

“This is my mom, Marge Poole,” said Odelia. “Mom, meet Alicia. Jock and Grace’s daughter.”

“Hi, Alicia,” said Marge, who was looking slightly nervous.

“It’s so great to finally meet you,” said Alicia. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“You have?” asked Marge. “I didn’t know…”

“Yeah, my dad told me about his very first girlfriend, who is now the wife of Doctor Poole, and mother of the famous Odelia Poole, reporter for the Hampton Cove Gazette. He reads your stories all the time, by the way, Odelia, and follows all of your exploits.”

“That’s… so nice of your father,” said Marge, who clearly hadn’t expected this.

They followed the young woman down the hallway, and into the library, which was, as libraries go, opulent. Racks of books reached all the way to the ceiling, and there was even one of those library ladders on wheels. In the center of the room leather couches had been placed, surrounding a salon table, and Odelia spotted a comfy-looking window seat that practically invited her to pick up a book and spend a couple of hours reading.

Standing near that same window, looking out, a tall man stood, back straight, hands behind his back. When they walked in, he turned. He looked about Odelia’s dad’s age, but his hair was completely gray, and he had a little white mustache. He had one of those classically handsome faces, that only become more attractive with age.

He greeted them with a pleasant smile.

“Marge Poole,” he said, spreading his arms. “It’s such a pleasure to see you. And can I say you haven’t changed one bit?”

“Hi, Jock,” said Marge, still not at ease. “You look well.”

“A little older, a little grayer, and, perhaps a little wiser,” he said.

Odelia could see how her mother would have fallen for this man. He had charm and charisma oozing from every pore.

“This is my daughter Odelia,” said Marge.

“Spitting image of your lovely mother,” said Jock, and pressed Odelia’s hands warmly. “Alicia told me she invited you, and I must confess I think it’s a little silly of her, to engage your services like this.”

“Well, she’s very worried about her mother,” said Odelia.

“I know, and I’m worried myself, but knowing Grace she will turn up soon enough.”

“You mean she’s done this before?”

“She has disappeared before, yes, and usually gets back in touch after a couple of days. One time I didn’t hear from her for two weeks. I’d already contacted the police. Turns out she needed a break from it all and had gone down to the Keys for a vacation.”

“Mom would never do that,” said Alicia. “She would never just leave us like that.”

“And yet she did, sweetheart. You wouldn’t remember as you were too young.”

“I think I would have noticed if Mama left for two weeks, Papa.”

“Well, you didn’t, since I sent you to your grandmother for two weeks, and you had the time of your life. My mom and dad live in Montana, you see,” said Jock. “They took over a dude ranch when Dad retired, and have been living up there since, having a ball.”

“You said Grace has done this several times?” asked Odelia as Alicia frowned, trying to recollect the incident her father was referring to.

“Yes, my wife has a tendency to disappear, just as a way of getting back at me for some perceived slight. She is quite incapable of dealing with the slings and arrows of life. Instead of coping, or attacking them head-on, she prefers to run away. I’ll bet she’s relaxing in a five-star hotel in Cabo right now, enjoying an extensive pampering session.”

“She wouldn’t do that without letting me know where she is, Papa,” said Alicia stubbornly. “She simply wouldn’t!”

“Could you give me a few minutes with Marge and Odelia, sweetheart? There’s something I need to discuss with them.”

The moment his daughter had left, Jock turned grave. “Look, I understand Alicia is worried sick, and I would be, too, if I didn’t know her mother better than she does. We’ve always tried to protect Alicia from Grace’s whims and her many flings, but it’s becoming harder and harder as Alicia gets older. I don’t know if she told you this, but Grace has been conducting a torrid and sordid affair with an artist I hired to paint her portrait.”

“Fabio Shakespeare?” said Odelia.

“I see Alicia already mentioned him. Fabio’s been staying at the old gamekeeper’s cottage, with Grace sitting for her portrait. Only I think she’s become more to the man than just a model. I think they’ve become lovers, as well, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they took off together, since Fabio disappeared around the same time Grace did.”

“Do you mind if we take a look at the cottage?” asked Odelia.

“No, by all means be my guest,” said Jock. “And if you find that her disappearance is, in fact, troubling, as my daughter seems to think, I’ll be the first one to call the police. But until then I’m pretty sure this is another one of her flings that ended with a trip abroad.”

“She doesn’t, by any chance, have tracking software on her phone, does she?” asked Odelia.

“I’m not the kind of husband who believes in keeping track of his wife’s every move, Miss Poole,” said Jock with a tight smile.

“Does she have her own car? Did she take it?”

“She does have her own car, but it’s still in the garage, so they probably took Fabio’s,” said Jock.

“I’m so sorry about this, Jock,” said Marge. “Grace was always a little… independent.”

“You mean unreliable. And you should know. She was your best friend, as I recall.”

Odelia stared at her mother. “You didn’t tell me you and Grace were friends, Mom.”

“Grace was my best friend, yes, and so when she betrayed me, it hit me hard.”

“I’m truly sorry about what happened, Marge,” said Jock now, taking her hands in his and pressing them warmly. He looked sincere. “What can I say? I was young and foolish.”

“We were all young and foolish, Jock.”

“Yes, but I was an idiot for letting you go. I should have listened when you said I was making a big mistake. Of course back then I was completely smitten with Grace. Blinded by her good looks and her flirtatious attitude.”

“That’s all in the past now, Jock. No sense in rehashing ancient history.”

“I know, but look at you now. Married to a doctor, with a gorgeous, successful daughter. You really did well for yourself.”

“You did pretty well for yourself, too, Jock. And your Alicia is lovely.”

“She is, isn’t she?” said Jock, glowing at the mention of his little girl. “She’s the light of my life. Grace and I have made a mess of things—I won’t conceal that our marriage is a bust—but we did one thing right and that’s Alicia. She’s our one saving grace.”

And with these words, he excused himself and walked out.

“So what do you think?” asked Odelia. “Did Grace leave under her own steam, or was she taken?”

“I have no idea, but I’m sure you’ll find out, honey.”

“Only if you help me.”

“Odelia! I’m not a detective.”

“And neither am I. I’m just a reporter.”

“With a knack for detection.”

“You know Grace. She was your best friend. If anyone can get to the bottom of this, it’s you, Mom.”

“I can’t just close up my library for a couple of days or weeks, honey.”

“No, you do your library, and we’ll try and find out what happened to Grace after hours. I have a feeling Jock is right, and that she simply up and left and will be in touch any day now. But in the meantime I don’t want to disappoint Alicia, either.”

“No, you’re right,” said Marge as she glanced through the window. In the distance, half-obscured by a large willow tree, they could see the gamekeeper’s cottage. “And you probably have a point. The fact that I used to know Grace could work to our advantage.”

“So we’re doing this?”

“Okay, fine. I’ll help you find Grace. But don’t tell your dad. He might not appreciate me hanging around the Farnsworths—well, Jock, in particular.”

Odelia laughed. “Wait, what?”

“The fact that I used to date Jock Farnsworth made your dad feel pretty insecure. And I don’t think that feeling has completely gone away over the years. So I’ll help you, but only if you don’t tell your dad. Deal?”

Odelia was still smiling. Hard to believe her dad would be jealous of Jock Farnsworth after all these years. But she shook her mother’s hand. “Deal.”

Chapter 10

Gran had decided we needed to tackle this issue together, as a team. She’d appointed herself the head of the CCREC, much to Harriet’s annoyance, I might add, and intimated she would create a blueprint for our first campaign, giving us a detailed script.

“We’ll start on Harrington Street,” she said. “These people need to be made aware of the need for cleanliness and hygiene and anyway, I’ve never liked our neighbors, so if this goes sideways, no harm done.”

“I actually like our neighbors, Max,” said Dooley. “So if this goes sideways aren’t we going to be welcome in our own neighborhood anymore?”

“It certainly looks that way, Dooley,” I said.

“This is going to be rough,” Brutus announced when Gran walked up to the first house and rang the bell.

“So you know the drill, you guys,” said Gran. “While I talk to the lord of the manor, you talk to his hairy mutt. It’s called a two-pronged approach and it can’t fail.”

“All right, Gran,” said Dooley dutifully.

“When did the CCREC become a human’s sideshow?” asked Shanille, grumbling a little. I had a feeling it wasn’t just Father Reilly who wasn’t a big fan of Gran, but his cat, too. Then again, pets often take after their owners, or is it the other way around? I can never remember. Or maybe it’s just a case of mutual influence.

The door flew open and a large man with a paunch, bald head and bulbous nose appeared. This was Odelia’s next-door neighbor Kurt Mayfield. Mr. Mayfield is a retired music teacher, and his one defining feature is that he hates cats. So it was with some trepidation that I now entered his home, in search of the dog Gran had suggested we bring under our fatal spell, while she worked her charm on its owner.

Mr. Mayfield, the moment he saw five cats slip between his legs, bellowed, “Hey! Get those cats out of here!”

A fine start for CCREC’s first-ever mission.

“Let’s you and I have a little chat first, Kurtis,” said Gran.

“The name is Kurt, not Kurtis,” Mr. Mayfield growled.

I’d decided to linger in the hallway, to keep abreast of Gran’s progress. In case she spectacularly failed her mission, we probably needed to abort and do so on the double.

“Did you know that my son, your chief of police, has launched a new campaign to improve the health and safety of our beloved community?” asked Gran, launching into her spiel. “And did you know that as a consequence of his campaign he requires upstanding citizens such as yourself to adopt a new rule prohibiting the deposit of dog excrement on our town’s sidewalks? Yes, that’s right, Kurtis Mayfield. From now on, it is strictly forbidden to take your dog out for a walk and allow him to soil our trees, our pavements, our parks and our waterways with his poo and with his pee.”

“It’s Kurt, and I don’t get it,” said Kurt now, scratching his shiny bald scalp. “What are you saying, Vesta, cause it all sounds like gibberish to me?”

“I’m saying that Wilbur Vickery has a great deal on litter boxes and you need to take advantage of this promotion and get yourself one of those fine items pronto and then you’re going to train that silly mutt of yours to take a dump in the box from now on.”

“You’re telling me to do what?!” Kurt vociferated.

“I’m telling you that your chief of police wants you to stop messing up the sidewalk with your dog’s disgusting crap, Kurtis. And if you can’t get that simple message through that thick skull of yours, I’ll make it even plainer: stop polluting my town or else!”

“This time you’ve gone too far, Vesta,” growled Kurt. “Show me where it says I can’t take my dog out for a walk. Show me this new rule of your son and I’ll gladly comply.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about the new rule. It is coming, and faster than you think. As soon as Alec is appointed mayor, the rule is going to be voted in so fast it’ll make your head spin. In fact it’s the first policy he’ll put to the vote, his crowning achievement.”

Kurt stared at Gran for a moment, then declared, “I always said you were nuts.”

And slammed the door in her face.

Which had as a consequence that five members of the CCREC were now effectively locked in with this irate cat-hating neighbor, and one presumably vicious dog.

While I’d stayed behind to keep an eye on the proceedings, my fellow CCREC’ers had gone in search of Kurt’s mutt, and now returned, their search having proven fruitless.

“I don’t think this man has a dog, Max,” said Shanille, reporting from the trenches.

“Oh, yes, he has,” I said. “He got his dog around the same time Marcie and Ted Trapper got Rufus. It’s a happy little yapper that answers to the name Fifi.”

I decided to head into the backyard, which was an easy feat to accomplish, as Kurt had installed a pet door similar to Odelia’s. I squeezed myself through the thing—it was a lot smaller than Odelia’s—and found myself in Kurt Mayfield’s backyard, which wasn’t as nice as my own, but nice enough for a man living by himself. You hear these stories about confirmed bachelors: how their houses are a mess, and their backyards are complete jungles, but Kurt obviously was a man who appreciated order and cleanliness, and both his house and his backyard were nicely maintained, I had to admit.

“Fifi,” I called out. “Where are you?”

And then I saw her. The little Yorkshire Terrier was hiding behind a tree near the back fence, and just about all I could see were two beady eyes and a quivering snout.

“Oh, there you are,” I said, and approached the little doggie carefully. She might be small and cute, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t also be vicious—a happy little biter.

“There’s something we need to discuss, Fifi,” I said. “Something that will benefit you.”

“Don’t hurt me, cat,” said the Yorkie. “Don’t scratch me with those claws of yours.”

“Scratching you is the furthest thing from my mind,” I assured the sweet little thing.

Behind me, four more cats had squeezed through the pet flap, and now joined me as I prepared to give Fifi the CCREC talk, as outlined and drilled into us by Grandma Muffin.

“The thing is, Fifi,” I began, “that there’s a revolution sweeping through Hampton Cove right now. Dogs from all shapes and sizes are taking part in this revolution and joining this popular movement and I’m sure you don’t want to be left behind, right?”

Fifi didn’t respond, but merely crawled further behind the tree, looking even more scared than before. Then again, if one cat scares the bejesus out of you, five probably are a living nightmare.

“Why is she hiding, Max?” asked Dooley. “Doesn’t she like us?”

“I think she’s scared of us,” I intimated.

“A dog? Scared of a cat? I didn’t think that was possible,” said Shanille.

“Well, it is possible, and Fifi is obviously very scared, so maybe you guys should back off a little and give her some space,” I suggested.

“You don’t have to be scared, little Fifi,” said Shanille. Instead of backing off, she was advancing on the creature. “I’m Father Reilly’s cat, and the Bible teaches us to love all creatures great and small, so I can assure you I’m not a threat to you. On the contrary, I think you’re one of the Lord’s creatures, just like me and my dear, dear friends here.”

“Go away, cat,” said Fifi, indicating she wasn’t impressed by this lecture. “Leave me alone.”

“Look, I’ll just say my piece and then we’ll be out of your hair,” I said, which, I now noticed, was adorned with a big pink bow. Very cute. “Dogs all over Hampton Cove are joining the litter box revolution, and I’m sure you don’t want to be left behind. If you learn to go on the litter box now, you’ll be part of the avant-garde of a new and exciting movement. For only nine ninety-nine your owner can pick up a litter box at the General Store, and get two bags of litter thrown in. You simply enter the box, do your business, and you’ll come out smelling like roses—or baby powder, whichever you prefer. Join the litter box revolution now and be a cool dog. There, that was my sales pitch. Questions?”

Gran had really drilled the speech into us, but I still had a feeling it was lacking that je ne sais quoi. Then again, I’m not a salescat, so I probably had fumbled my delivery.

“What’s a litter box?” asked Fifi now, showing her first sign of interest.

“Well, it’s a big box with litter inside it,” I said, “and it magically absorbs your pee and your poo. Pee and poo go in, and you come out, clean as a whistle and smelling, as I said, like roses—or baby powder—but the latter will set you back eleven ninety-nine.”

“Why is that, Max?” asked Dooley. “Why are babies more expensive than roses?”

“Shush, Dooley,” I said. “I’m in the middle of an important sales pitch here.”

“It sounds really nice,” Fifi admitted. “I would love to smell like roses. Pink roses. Pink is my color, you see. I have everything pink. Pink bowls, pink basket, pink pillows….”

“Oh, but it is nice. Us cats have been using litter boxes for years and years and years, and now it’s your turn.”

“You mean you were part of the beta test for this litter box thing?”

I paused. “Um, sure. Cats were part of the beta test group, and now this cool gadget is being rolled out to all pets, dogs included. So you don’t want to miss this opportunity.”

“I think it might be cool,” said Fifi, carefully emerging from behind her tree.

“Oh, yeah, it’s the coolest thing possible,” Harriet assured the little doggie. “You’ll be the coolest dog in school.”

“I don’t go to school, though,” said Fifi, eyeing Harriet uncertainly, nose twitching.

“It’s just a figure of speech,” I said. “What Harriet means to say is that if you become part of the litter box vanguard, you’ll be the coolest dog in town. And who doesn’t want to be the coolest dog in town, right?”

“I’m not cool,” said Fifi sadly. “At least that’s what other dogs keep telling me.”

“This will change all that,” I promised her. “This will make every dog treat you with the respect that you deserve.”

“They’ll look up to you,” said Brutus. “They’ll think you’re the hippest dude on the block.”

“I’m not a dude, though,” said Fifi.

“Okay, fine. You’ll be the hippest chick,” Brutus amended his previous statement.

“I’d like to be a hip chick,” said Fifi, now fully out from behind her tree.

She was obviously overcoming her fear of cats, a testament to the transformational power of the CCREC message and the litter box revolution sweeping our town.

Oh, boy. I guess I’d drunk the Kool-Aid, too.

“Will it make me prettier?” asked Fifi now. “This litter box thing?”

“Oh, sure,” said Harriet without batting an eye. “Litter does wonders for your skin and your fur. Just look at me.” She preened a little, showing off that shiny white coat.

Fifi stared at it with rapt fascination. “You have such lovely fur, Harriet. I’ve always admired you from afar—ever since I was adopted by Kurt. I think you look amazing.”

“Why, thanks, Fifi. And it’s all due to the amazing powers of litter,” said Harriet, unashamedly plugging litter as a regular panacea. I guess she is a born salescat.

“The power of litter will also make you stronger,” said Brutus. “Make you butch like me.” He flexed his muscles. “No dog is going to mess with you when you’re muscular.”

“I would love to be more muscular,” said Fifi. “And bigger and stronger, too.”

“Well, adopt the litter box lifestyle and amazing strength will be yours,” said Brutus.

“And don’t forget about self-confidence,” Shanille told the bashful Yorkie. “Embrace the litter box lifestyle and you’ll become a new dog. Gone will be the fear of cats or other creatures. You’ll be a completely new Fifi by the time you walk out of your litter box.”

Fifi’s eyes had begun to shine with the light of holy fervor. “Strength, beauty, self-confidence,” she murmured. “Is there anything this wonder-box can’t accomplish?”

“Nothing,” Harriet assured her. “The litter box is the answer to all your problems. And all this for a measly nine ninety-nine, sales tax included. Buy yours now and get a bag of litter for free. Deal ends Friday at midnight.”

I had to admit I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable about all this talk of the litter box as the be-all and end-all of life. Gran had jotted these notions down on a paper napkin before giving us our instructions, saying we needed to drive our point home with zeal and excitement and close! close! close! that deal. But now I wondered if we weren’t overdoing it. I mean, the litter box is a nice invention, as inventions go, but it can only do so much. It has never contributed in a significant way to my complexion or the glossiness of my coat, nor has it ever given me confidence, strength or happiness.

Do I feel better after a visit to the box? Yes, I do, but doesn’t everyone feel better after relieving themselves of a surplus amount of bodily fluids or other excess baggage?

“I think our mission here is done, you guys,” said Shanille now, beaming with visible satisfaction. Preaching the non-existent benefits of the litter box seemed to come quite naturally to her, but then of course she had an excellent example in Father Reilly. By all accounts the man was an excellent preacher, and equipped with a silver tongue.

“I want this litter box,” said Fifi now. “Where can I get it?”

“Well, I’m sure Gran will have given your human all the information he needs,” said Harriet. “So you can expect your brand-new litter box to show up any day now.”

“Um, I think Gran’s mission was a bust,” I said. “Kurt slammed the door in her face.”

“So... no litter box for me?” asked Fifi, disappointed.

“Don’t you worry about a thing,” said Shanille. “I’ll tell my human to talk to your human. And when Father Reilly speaks, people listen.”

“You think Father Reilly should join the CCREC cause?” asked Harriet.

“Yes, I do,” said Shanille. “I’m sure this is a cause he’ll happily support. Now all I need to do is convince Grandma Muffin to talk to Father Reilly and turn him into a CCREC’er.”

I was still having misgivings about the whole CCREC’er mission. But then again, sometimes the end justifies the means, and if we wanted our streets clean and smelling like roses—or baby powder—then maybe the CCREC’er way was the only way.

By then Kurt had found us, and chased us out of his backyard and into Odelia’s. And even as we hopped the fence, I could hear Fifi cry, “I want my litter box!”

Our campaign was clearly a success.

And the only price was my conscience.

Chapter 11

“Look here, Mr. Mayor,” said Chase, “you can’t do this. Dolores is a hard-working woman and, more importantly, she’s practically like a mascot for our police force. A mainstay for so many years she’s become a fixture—a trusted figure.”

“Listen to yourself, Chase,” said Mayor Dirk Dunham, who was a portly man in his early sixties, with a full pepper-and-salt beard and perfect gold coif of which he was particularly proud. “A fixture. A mainstay. A mascot. And I’ll add another word to the collection: a relic. Dolores Peltz is a relic of the force, and you know what happens with relics, don’t you? They’re relegated to the museum, where they belong. But a police station isn’t a museum, it’s a vital part of our community, and that community deserves a vivacious, competent, attractive point of reference, and clearly Fiona is that person.”

“But Mr. Mayor!”

“Dirk, please,” said the Mayor as he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers.

Chase had decided to pay the Mayor a visit in his lair: town hall. He now wondered if he hadn’t made a fatal mistake. The Mayor was on his home turf, and had the home team advantage. Maybe he should simply have accosted the man when he dropped by the police station, and sprung his opinion on him there, where he was out of his element.

“Look, Chase, I won’t conceal the fact that I feel for your Dolores. I’m not just the mayor of this fine town. First and foremost I’m a citizen, and I, too, have known Dolores forever. But that’s exactly the problem: nothing lasts forever, son. And sometimes you need a visionary like me to step in and herald in the new. All change is painful, but it’s also vital. My niece is going to be like a breath of fresh air to that stuffy old precinct. She’s going to drag you into the twenty-first century, whether you like to or not. And speaking of fresh air, have you ever given any thought to your own future, Chase?”

“Um, yeah, I guess I have. I would like to stay here, Mr. Mayor. I’ve made Hampton Cove my home and I like it here.”

“So you’ve decided to stick around, huh? No intention of returning to the NYPD?”

“No, sir. I’ll stick around here for as long as this town will have me.”

The Mayor nodded with satisfaction. “I can assure you that this town is fond of you, Chase. In fact it isn’t too much to say that Hampton Covians have embraced you and now consider you one of their own.”

“Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. That’s great to hear.”

“Dirk, please. Now, Chase, you were in LA with our chief of police recently, yes?”

Uh-oh. This wasn’t the way the conversation was supposed to go. “Um, yes, sir—I mean Dirk.”

The Mayor shifted in his seat. “It has come to my attention that our Chief Alec was less than excited about the conference’s itinerary. Am I correct in that assumption?”

The Mayor was fixing him with an intent gaze.

“Um, I guess he thought—well, we thought, that the techniques the conference organizers were expounding weren’t exactly applicable in our specific context, yes, sir.”

“Mh,” said Mayor Dunham, frowning. “You know what I think, Chase? And I’m going to be completely candid with you here, if I may.”

“Of course, sir—Dirk.”

“Chief Alec has been a dear, dear friend of mine for many, many years. He’s also been the head of our police department for going on three decades now, and I think that maybe it’s time some of that fresh air we were discussing earlier was applied to him as well. The man is, what, in his fifties now? He could probably take early retirement if he wanted to. Rest on his laurels. Enjoy his golden years with a nice pension. Go fishing. And I’ll get to the point here, Chase,” he added when Chase had started sputtering muttered objections. “How about you as chief of police? Mh? Would you like that?”

“Oh, but Dirk. I don’t think—”

“Look, I’m sure your loyalty towards Chief Alec is highly commendable, but you’re young, Chase. In your prime. Just think of all the things you could accomplish. If you became chief now, you could shape the future of this department. You could be its chief for the next twenty, thirty years. Isn’t that an exciting prospect? It sure excites me.”

“But... I thought your niece…”

The Mayor laughed. “I know what the rumor mill says, Chase. Oh, I know perfectly well they already see Fiona in that chief’s chair. But I’ll let you in on a little secret here. Fiona doesn’t want to be chief of police. Oh, no. She has bigger ambitions, and I want to help her accomplish them. What Fiona wants is to sit in this chair one day. First female mayor of Hampton Cove, and I’m not going to stop her. No, sir. I’ll groom her for the job!”

Chase stared at the Mayor, speechless.

“Look, you don’t have to give me your answer now, son. Think it over. Take your time. And then when the time is right, you and I can have another little chat, and let’s just say I see a great future for you here, Chase. A future with you as chief, and Fiona as mayor. I think it would leave Hampton Cove in good hands. The best hands. Now don’t let me keep you,” he added as he got up. “I’m sure you have a ton of work. I know I do.”

And as he stuck out his hand to shake Chase’s, the cop knew he should say something. He should voice some protestations. Put his foot down and demand that Chief Alec stay chief and that Dolores get her rightful place back heading the front desk.

But for some reason Mayor Dunham’s intense stare and iron grip wiped all those thoughts from his mind, and caused him to mindlessly shake the politician’s hand and then walk out of his office, a welter of emotions.

Dang, he thought once he was out on the sidewalk. What had just happened?

Chapter 12

Victor Ball had finally returned home. He’d been forced to walk, as he’d left his bike lying in the road the night before, and Chief Alec had refused to dispatch a squad car. After walking for almost an hour, he entered his home with some trepidation, fully expecting his lovely wife of forty years to have been gobbled up by the monster he met out in the fields.

“Alice,” he asked in a shaky voice. “Alice, honey? Are you still alive?”

When there was no response, he knew his worst fears had come to pass. And as he walked into the living room, he braced himself for the sight of his wife’s mangled body. Instead, she was waiting for him with a rolling pin, one hand on her hip, the other shaking the heavy pin.

“And where have you been, mister?” she demanded hotly. “You didn’t even come home last night! I called the Blue Oyster but they said you already left, so I’ll repeat my question, and don’t you dare try to feed me any of your lies: where have you been?”

“Oh, Alice, am I glad to see you! I thought for sure that monster had torn you limb from limb!”

“What monster? What the hell are you talking about, you drunkard!”

“I met a monster on the road last night. A vicious beast, all hairy with long fangs and a terrifying roar. And so I ran as fast as my legs could carry me, and by the time I got to the police station, I’d lost him.”

“The police station? You were arrested for public drunkenness again?”

“No, I wasn’t, I swear! I went there for protection. I figured it was the only place where I’d be safe. And it worked! The monster didn’t come after me, as it knew it wouldn’t be able to get at me behind those bars.”

“I’m warning you—if you’re lying to me about spending the night at the police station...”

“No, I’m not, I swear. I was there all night. Just ask them.”

“Don’t think I won’t call Chief Alec to check your story.”

“You can call him now—he’ll tell you it’s all true. I told him about the monster—the werewolf—but he wouldn’t believe me. But it happened. I met the monster in the road out near Garrison’s Field and it practically devoured me with hide and hair!”

Alice hauled off with the rolling pin and got a good one in before Victor managed to take the pin from her. “Ouch! What did you have to do that for?” ...

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