The Time for Murder is Meow
A Purr N Bark Pet Shop Mystery
by T. C. LoTempio
About the Book
1st in Series
Midnight Ink (August 8, 2019
Paperback: 312 pages
Digital ASIN: B07HL4F1Z6
Shell and her two furry sidekicks must cat-ch a killer to save their pet shop
Crishell "Shell" McMillan sees the cancellation of her TV series as a blessing in disguise. The former actress can now take over her late aunt's pet shop, the Purr N' Bark, and do something she loves.
While getting the shop ready for re-opening, Shell is asked to loan her aunt's Cary Grant posters to the local museum for an exhibit. She finds the prospect exciting—until a museum board member, who had a long-standing feud with Shell's aunt, votes against it. When she discovers the board member dead in the museum, Shell becomes suspect number one. Can she, her Siamese cat Kahlua, and her new sidekick—her aunt's Persian Purrday—find the real culprit, or will her latest career go up in kitty litter?
About the Author
While Toni Lotempio does not commit – or solve – murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper. Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at age 10 – The Secret in the Old Attic. She and her cat pen the Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime and the Cat Rescue series from Crooked Lane. Her latest, the Pet Shop Mysteries, makes its debut August 8 with The Time for Murder is Meow.
The Time for Murder is Meow is the debut of A Purr N’ Bark Pet Shop Mystery series. When Crishell “Shell” McMillan finds herself a person of interest in the murder of Amelia Witherspoon (think Wicked Witch of the West with white hair), Shell sets out to clear her name with help from her new friends. She believes her experience in playing a spy on Spy Anyone will come in handy. Shell talks to a variety of people around town gathering information and clues. This gives us a chance to meet the secondary characters and learn about Fox Hollow. Shell’s co-star, Gary Presser arrives in town and helps in solving the crime. Gary was my favorite character and he outshone Shell. He has a great personality and provides engaging humor. Purrday, Aunt Tillie’s cat, is a delight and I like how he communicates with Shell (cats have a way of telling us what they want). I like how Shell talks to Purrday and her cat, Kahlua. Kahlua acted in typical cat fashion when first introduced to Purrday—by hissing. I am glad that the author took the time to introduce the characters and the town (set the stage so to speak). Amelia Witherspoon was a disagreeable woman which leads to multiple suspects and misdirection. The clues were a little too on-the-nose which allows readers to pin down the guilty party early in the story. I enjoyed the movie references and how Shell would compare an individual to a movie character or actor. I liked the descriptions of Aunt Tillie’s collection and the Victorian home she left Shell. Detective Josh Bloodgood provides a potential romantic partner for Shell. The Time for Murder is Meow is a lighthearted cozy mystery with movie memorabilia, a wicked victim, bewitching brew, a gregarious co-star, playful Purrday, and one anxious actress.
After I hung up from Max I flopped down in the worn chair behind the register and leaned back, my hands laced behind my neck. Max’s parting words bothered me more than I cared to admit, and a twinge of guilt arrowed through me at the thought I might possibly cost Gary this job. Kahlua hopped up on my lap and swatted my chin with her paw. “You’re right, Kahlua,” I said. “Max might have been exaggerating, hoping to play on my sympathy. Gary’s a big boy and a good actor. He’ll push through no matter what the role.”
Everything happens for a reason. A mental picture of Patrick rose in my mind’s eye, and I resolutely pushed it away. I’d been so certain he was the one. I’d spend hours in my trailer between scenes, fantasizing about the perfect life we’d have together and then, in one afternoon, it had all come crashing down. I’d flung my four-carat diamond ring at Patrick and the script girl he was in bed with, stormed out of the apartment and never looked back. A month later the show was cancelled, and three weeks after that I was on a plane to Fox Hollow. And now here I sat, sorting through boxes of catnip balls and doggie chew toys. Go figure.
The bell above the shop door tinkled, jostling me out of my reverie and reminding me once again I’d forgotten to lock the door. “I’m sorry, we’re not open for business yet,” I began, and then stopped short. Three people stood grouped in the doorway, two women and a man. One woman was short and stout. She had flame colored hair (think Lucille Ball, only REDDER) teased up off her head and anchored with what had to be at least a pound of hairspray. She wore an aqua and orange flowered caftan a size too small which served to accentuate her generous frame instead of hiding it. Her age was hard to judge but I placed her as approximately ten years older than myself, late forties to mid-fifties. The man was around the same age. He had a brown beard shot with streaks of grey, and kind eyes behind large, tortoise framed glasses. His jeans were neat and pressed, and held up by multicolored suspenders with a thread of glitter running through them.
The other girl was a good bit younger than either of her companions. I placed her a bit younger than myself, late twenties, early thirties tops. She had long, luxurious dark brown, almost black hair that flowed across her shoulders like a waterfall. I couldn’t see her eyes behind the massive Jackie O sunglasses she wore, but I was betting they were the same color as the hair. Her slender frame was accentuated by the skintight Capri jeans and tank top she wore. Toenails painted a bright blue peeped out from flip-flops of the same color. The girl carried a massive basket wrapped in yellow cellophane.
“Welcome to Fox Hollow,” they chorused, almost as if they’d either rehearsed it or else done it a million times before. It was hard to tell which. “We know you’re not open yet,” the redhead added. “But we saw the light on, so we figured maybe this was as good a time as any.” She held out her hand. “Rita Sakowski. I run the coffee shop up the block. Sweet Perks.”
“Oh, yes.” I gave an enthusiastic nod. “I did notice your shop. I’m rather a coffee nut. Sorry I haven’t had time to stop in yet, but I’ve been busy.” “Oh, we know,” Rita gushed. “You’re Crishell Marlowe, the actress, Tillie’s niece. I’ve always loved that name. It’s so unusual. How did you think of it, or did some Hollywood bigwig do it for you?”
“Nope. If anyone’s to blame, it’s my parents.” I took the hand she shoved in front of me and let her pump it up and down. “They couldn’t decide between Shelley and Christine, so they invented Crishell. It’s kind of a mouthful for most people, though, so I go by my nickname. Shell.” I paused. “I should also mention I’m using my real last name now. McMillan.”
“Oh.” Rita dropped my hand abruptly. Her smile faltered just a bit and then it was back in place. “Well, I have to tell you everyone in Fox Hollow is just thrilled you’ve decided to keep Tillie’s legacy alive.”
I smiled back. “It’s my pleasure.” I waved a hand around the store. “I’ve been taking inventory. I wanted to open it next week, but I doubt I’ll be ready much before the end of the month. As you can see, there’s still a lot of work to be done. I have to restock a lot of items, and, of course, get some pets in here.” Rita nodded. “Of course. Tillie did let things slack off a bit those last few months. I guess we should have been quicker to take that as a sign something was wrong. Your aunt never slacked off. Never.”
We were all silent for a few seconds, and then the man reached out and took my hand. “Well, I’m pleased to meet you, Shell McMillan. I’m Ron Webb. Webb’s Florists. My store is right next door to Rita’s.” He grinned. “Sure comes in handy during the slow hours when I need a cup of java or a fresh baked scone to pick me up.” The brunette reached up to brush a strand of hair from her glasses. I noted the blue polish on the fingernails had added glitter. “And I’m Olivia Niven,” she said. “My claim to fame is running the dance academy on Main Street.” She wrinkled her nose at me and looked pointedly at my feet. “Do you dance, Shell?”
“Not very well. I turned down Dancing on Air because I have two left feet. My co-star, Gary Presser was on last season though. He came in second.” “I know. I voted for him. He got robbed.” Olivia looked me up and down. “I bet I could make a passable dancer out of you,” she laughed and flicked her hand dismissively. “If I can train the Boswell twins to win last year’s annual competition, I can train anyone.”
“That’s true,” Rita’s red hair swayed to and fro as she nodded. “Talk about left feet, those girls had ‘em, and now, well, you should see them foxtrot.” Olivia shot me a mischievous grin. “Come by the studio. My girls will be thrilled to meet you. The boys even more so. They were all big Spy Anyone fans.” She shifted the basket to her other hand and whipped off the sunglasses, and I saw her eyes were indeed the same color as the hair, maybe even a shade darker. “So,” she reached out to tap the top of the basket. “We just came over to give you this small token to welcome you to the shop community, and to offer any help you might need.”
“Some treats Rita, Ron and I put together,” Olivia said, with a sidelong glance at her companions. “To be honest, it was mostly Rita. Enjoy.” “Thanks.” I had to grip the basket hard. It was really loaded down. “This was very nice of you.”
Rita waved her hand carelessly. “Oh, don’t mention it sweetie. We all loved your aunt, and this store is one of the most popular in Fox Hollow. When the tour buses come through, they always make a stop here. Nothing people like better than to take a little souvenir home to their pets. Oh, and you might want to give Kathleen Power a call. She knits the most darling doggie and kitty sweaters and booties. Your aunt used to sell them for her all the time, on consignment.” “Thanks, I’ll do that.” I smiled. “I hope I can live up to my aunt’s reputation.”
“I’m sure you will, dear.” Rita hesitated and then added, “I have to say, we were all surprised when we heard that you would be moving here and taking over the store.” “Oh, don’t be so coy, Rita,” Olivia cut in. She turned to me. “We were shocked. After all, Fox Hollow’s no Hollywood.” I nodded. “Thank God for that.”
Now that her arms were free, Olivia crossed them over her well endowed chest. “So, you’re really planning on staying and making a go of this? Or is this just a pit stop before your next series?” Apparently Olivia wasn’t the type to pull any punches. Personally I found that refreshing after living in the phony Hollywood community for so long. “I assure you, I’m here to stay. I’ve retired from show business.”
Olivia’s perfectly arched eyebrow skyrocketed. “Retired? Really? I would think that would be hard. Isn’t it in your blood? I mean, your mother’s an actress too, right?” I shot her a wry smile. “If that’s true, then I want a transfusion.”
“I was sad to hear about your series,” Rita cut in. “I always watched Spy Anyone. It was one of my favorite shows.” “Mine too,” said Ron and Olivia nodded. “I watched it for your co-star,” Olivia said with a shrug. “I hope he’s not retiring from show business too.” “Gary? I doubt it. He’s too much of a ham.”
Olivia leaned one arm on the counter. “Frankly, I’m disappointed. I thought your moving here had something to do with that breakup of yours, you know with that director—OW!” She rubbed at her side and glared at Rita. “No sense in rehashing things I’m sure Shell must be sick of hearing, right Shell?” Rita said smoothly.
“Oh, for pity’s sakes, the woman lived in Hollywood, the gossip capital of the world. She’s used to it, aren’t you Shell?” Olivia demanded. “Now now Olivia, don’t put her on the spot,” chided Ron. “She might not want to talk about it.”
“Oh, don’t be silly Ron. Shell’s a public figure. Her life’s been an open book for years,” snapped Olivia. “Besides, I’m curious about this retirement. What made you decide to give up the bright lights to follow in your aunt’s footsteps?”
“Those bright lights aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” I said. “When you’re on a hit show, your life isn’t your own. As for taking over Aunt Tillie’s business, well, I’ve always loved animals. I think if I hadn’t been pushed into going into acting, I probably would have gone for a career in veterinary medicine. And I feel I owe it to my aunt. She was always there for me when I was growing up. One of my biggest regrets is not having had much contact with her before she passed. No one in our family even knew she was ill.”
Rita made a sympathetic noise. “Don’t beat yourself up over that, dear. No one did. Tillie could be quite close-mouthed when it came to certain things, and her health was one of them. I doubted she’d have ever told you anything anyway. Tillie never liked folks worrying or fussing over her.”
“But she did enjoy fussing over others,” Olivia put in. “Take her roommate, for example.” My head swiveled in Olivia’s direction and I let out an astonished gasp. “Roommate? My aunt’s lawyer didn’t mention anything about her having a roommate.” “No?” Olivia shrugged. “Maybe it slipped his mind.”
“Kind of an important detail to slip up on, don’t you think?” I placed my hands on my hips. “Are you sure about this? I mean, I find it a bit hard to believe my aunt would take in a boarder. She didn’t need the money, and as you’ve already pointed out, she valued her privacy.” Olivia chuckled. “That’s because you never saw the two of them together. He doted on your aunt, and she was a sucker for him.”
He. A male boarder. A sudden thought occurred to me. “Were my aunt and this boarder involved?” “Oh, absolutely!” Olivia nodded. “There was nothing Tillie wouldn’t do for him. He had her wrapped around his little finger. Or maybe I should say paw.” “Paw?”
Eyes twinkling, Olivia reached toward the basket I’d set on the counter, undid the cellophane and crinkled some of it between her fingers. “That should bring him running, see! There he is now.” I turned and caught a blur of white out of the corner of my eye. The next instant, the blur streaked past me and with one graceful leap landed on all fours right in the center of the counter.
“Oh my God,” I cried. “What is that?” “Merow,” said the blur. “Owww.” The others started to laugh. “That,” choked out Olivia. “Is the store mascot and your aunt’s roomie. Shell, meet Purrday.”
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