Book title in original: O`Shaughnessey Monica. The Black Cats

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An Apology  

Depending on which version of The Tell-Tail Heart  you read, the spelling of Eddie’s name may have changed to Eddy. While researching this book, I found that some historians referred to him as “Eddie,” while others called him “Eddy.” This, too, could be said of Cattarina. I found three different spellings of her name. Misinformation about the past is rampant. Even tour guides were mistaken about the historical name of the street where Poe lived (I caught this one!). To quote Cattarina, “It was enough to drive a cat mad.” So I picked the most logical spelling of Mr. Poe’s nickname and proceeded with The Tell-Tail Heart .

About a month after publication, I stumbled onto a source document—a letter written by Mr. Poe himself. And he’d signed it “Eddy.” This piece of information haunted me throughout the creation of The Black Cats . Should I risk the ire of readers and do justice to the past? Or ignore this trifle and spread more misinformation?

In the end, I sided with historical accuracy, inasmuch as this is possible. Please forgive my need to make this small but important change.


To F & G

My greatest sources of inspiration

To my critique group

The people who make me reach higher

To Edgar Allan Poe A true literary genius


Other Books in the Cattarina Mystery Series

The Tell-Tail Heart

To the River - Rescue by the Schuylkill

Adult / YA books by Monica Shaughnessy

Season of Lies

Universal Forces

The Trash Collector (Short Story)

Children's books by Monica Shaughnessy

Doom & Gloom

The Easter Hound


Acknowledgements & Foreword

This book is a complete work of fiction. However, it does  reference historical figures. Whenever possible, the story remains true to the facts surrounding their lives. Edgar Allan Poe did, indeed, own a tortoiseshell cat named Cattarina. While I can only guess she was his muse, I feel rather confident in this assertion as cats provide an immeasurable amount of inspiration to modern writers. If you would like to learn more about his life, several excellent biographies exist. I hope you enjoy my little daydream; life is wonderfully dreary under Mr. Poe's spell.

Table of Contents

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

Front Matter

Back Matter

“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe

Excerpt from The Tell-Tail Heart, Cattarina Mystery #1 


Philadelphia, 1843


The Black Cat

THE BODY HANGING FROM the tree spoiled our glorious constitutional. While Eddy and Sissy abhorred the discovery, it enraged me, filling me with desire for revenge. During my last adventure, I’d become accustomed to the transience of human life, perhaps too  accustomed, developing a relationship most informal with Death. So much so that when our neighbor, Mrs. Busybody, swallowed her false teeth and expired last winter, my whiskers barely registered the passing. But this morning’s butchery shocked me more than the ones that plagued Philadelphia last fall. Why? Because a fellow cat  had been murdered.

I shuddered at the black tom overhead, at once suspicious of our new neighbors. Eddy had insisted on moving, and I, fulfilling my role as feline companion and muse, had followed him on his quest for new air . We’d settled apparently, in the darkest, cruelest part of the city. Though I had no idea how dark and cruel when we set out this morning.

Shortly after breakfast, Sissy, the lady of the house, summoned Eddy to the kitchen and uttered one of my favorite phrases. “Let’s go for a stroll,” she said to him. “I am in need of a breeze, and from the snap of bed linens on the clothesline, God has provided one. The market would be lovely today. Besides, Mother’s out of rosemary.”

Eddy rested his fingertips on the windowsill above the sink and looked into the side yard. I hopped to the table for a peek myself. Muddy lingered near the clothesline with a basket of laundry and a mouthful of clothespins. One by one, she removed the little wooden teeth from her lips, using them to peg the sheets. “I suppose your mother will be busy for a while,” he said. “Join us, Catters?”

He meant me, of course. Eddy seldom used my full name, Cattarina. I wasn’t sure of his question, so I gave an all-purpose meow that meant both yes and maybe at the same time. Catspeak is not without subtlety.

Once Sissy changed into her rose-print town  dress, we left to marvel in the ripe delights of summer. Such a merry prelude to murder! In this new and strange part of the city, Spring Garden Street unbuttons down the center into an outdoor market filled with fish, hot corn, pickles, gutted pigs, fish, paper whimsies, tobacco products, tin wind-up toys, and fish. Yet I grieved for the wide-open fields of Fairmount. Nothing could replace the tickle of Indian grass beneath my paws.

Entering the market before Eddy and Sissy, I wound this way and that between their legs, guiding them without suspicion while they chatted. When humans are preoccupied, directing their actions is mere kitten’s play. So it took little effort to steer them to the appropriate stall. “Get my fish! In yer dish!” the monger shouted. “Shad enough to grant yer wish!” His sign held the usual marks: FISH. From my tenure with Eddy—a preeminent man of letters—I knew these squiggles communicated something . But I doubted they adequately described the striped bass, walleye, and catfish heaped on the counter, their scales glistening in the sun. Flies, too, had arrived in great number to admire the merchandise.

Sissy waved them from her path with a copy of the Gazette  she’d brought along. She opened the newspaper and examined the contents. “Three thefts, two beatings, and not a single murder,” she said.

My ears swiveled at murder —just one of the many human words I knew. Some, like breakfast , lunch , and dinner , could stir me from the deepest slumber; others, like no , out , and that damnable cat , had little effect on me despite their obvious meaning. And while a great many remained beyond comprehension, murder  had clawed its way into my vocabulary. I found a piece of discarded fish skin and chewed it thoughtfully as I listened to Sissy’s voice. When she spoke, her words came out in a whisper. I imagined them floating from her lips like dandelion puffs.

“It’s been so hot lately,” she said. “You’d think the heat would send someone  on a killing spree.”

“Peace and tranquility are most troubling, aren’t they?” Eddy said.

“I am reading the news for your  benefit, dear husband, not mine.” She folded the paper into a fan and waved it to cool herself. “I know how you love crime stories. I could scarcely keep you from that wretched eye business last October.”

“Am I the only one with an interest in murder?”

Sissy pursed her lips and fanned harder, fluttering the strings of her bonnet.

Murder , the liveliest, most oft-discussed topic of the Poe household. After I nabbed the Glass Eye Killer last autumn, my deeds inspired Eddy to write “The Tell-Tale Heart.” He then penned “The Gold Bug,” a second tale for which I take full credit. I am still not sure how Muddy found my beetle collection between the couch cushions. Now, with the passing of the seasons, life had dwindled to a predictable series of events for this tortoiseshell: breakfast, nap, lunch, nap, dinner, nap, repeat. How I longed to chase human quarry again! Alas, murderers were not as plentiful as mice.

Sissy took Eddy by the arm and led him from the fish and flies. I shadowed them, pausing to smell the cat spray on a nearby lamppost: male, geriatric, failing kidneys. Fiddlesticks. This was no way for a huntress to live. We stopped at a table stacked with herbs and assorted cut flowers where Eddy bought a spray of rosemary from a roundish woman in an apron. She rolled the green twigs in a cone of old newsprint and secured the bottom with a piece of twine. Once finished, she presented the bundle to Eddy, who in turn presented it to his wife with a flourish. “For you, Sissy,” he said to her. “May our love be ever green.”

She smelled the herbs and coughed into her handkerchief.

Moving from western to eastern Spring Garden District to sample new air  had not been therapeutic enough for Sissy. Eddy’s health had declined these last few moons, too. Was it any wonder? How disheartening to know that despite one’s best efforts, one’s beloved had no chance of surviving. And while Eddy’s appetite had only recently resumed, his thirst for spirits had remained steadfast through the winter. I turned and licked my shoulder, biting at a gnat. In truth, I blamed the drinking more than Sissy’s ailment for his malaise.

I pushed through their legs and headed for the gate, cutting our ramble short. Eddy had spent the dawn hours sipping black tea and pacing the floor—a preamble most familiar. He needed to write, not parade about the market. The humidity, too, had taken a toll on Sissy’s lungs. I turned and paused, fixing Eddy with a stare he could not ignore. The slight downturn of his mouth told me he’d received my message.

He touched Sissy’s arm. “Let’s leave for home, dearest.”

“But we were having such a grand time,” she said. “I thought we might stop by—”

He took the makeshift fan from her and laid it on a nearby stall. “You need to rest, Virginia. Your cheeks are positively flushed.”

She offered no resistance, and we retraced our steps to North Seventh, turning left on Minerva in front of our home. Before we could enter the front garden, voices rang out near Franklin, the neighboring intersection to the west. Eddy led us down the street toward the commotion. We rounded the corner to find a pawful of men in front of Mr. Fitzgerald’s hardware store. Rather, they’d gathered in front of its sprawling sassafras. The colossal tree grew in the unpaved courtyard between his shop and the next, rising up and obscuring the buildings behind its canopy.

“I say!” Eddy called to them. “What’s the trouble?”

“Someone’s hung a cat!” said one of the men.

“God in Heaven,” Eddy said under his breath.

Naturally, with the mention of cat , I thought they referred to me. When we arrived, however, I realized they spoke of a different feline: an unfortunate with matted black fur. The tom swayed from a limb, a rope strung round his neck, one eye gouged from its socket. The Glass Eye Killer came to mind, yet Constable Harkness had locked that  murderer in Eastern State Penitentiary. I sat on my haunches and studied the gruesome sight with equal parts anger and sadness, my tail tapping a pattern in the dust. I don’t know what devastated me more—the senseless death or the sullying of my favorite, nay, my only  climbing tree. Furthermore, someone had nicked the bark in several places. The marks looked like failed attempts to chop the tree down.

“It’s horrible!” Sissy cried. The spray of rosemary trembled between her hands.

Eddy held her by the arm, steadying her. “Look away, my love. Look away.”

Mr. Fitzgerald, the latest entry on my list of tolerable humans, scratched the top of his balding head as he considered the scene. He’d run from his shop without a jacket and stood before us in his waistcoat and bare sleeves. I hadn’t realized before how thin a frame he possessed. I’d seen fatter scarecrows.

The wind blew, swaying the carcass like a bell clapper, disturbing the flies that circled. I dug my claws into the earth. Was the victim my old pal, Midnight? I circled the trunk and examined the fur on the cat’s chest. It held no white mark like his. Their eyes were different, too. Midnight’s irises were buttercup yellow, much lighter in color than the tom’s lone eye. I purred with relief.

“Who has done this?” Eddy asked the man next to him.

The gent wore all black like Eddy and carried a book, which he held to his chest. “The supernatural is at work here,” he said. “I fear we’ve been visited by the devil.”

The word devil  sent a murmur through the crowd. Strange. The only deviling I’d encountered had been that of an egg, and with delicious results. I scaled the trunk, casting bits of bark to the ground, and walked along the branch in question to the knotted piece of rope. A unique piece of workmanship, the cord had been coiled from lengths of brown and tan jute, the former dyed with a bitter solution that smelled of walnuts, the latter left au natural . I sniffed the air. Decomposition—a distinct and unmistakable odor—had not set in. One had only to keep an expired mouse too long beneath Muddy’s bed to understand these things. So the cat had been murdered this morning. I turned to the scents on the rope, learning two things: the killer was male, and he wore a nauseating amount of cologne. If humans bathed as often as cats, there would be no need for copious amounts of lavender and citrus oils.

On the hunt for more clues, I cast my gaze upon footprints below. The courtyard had not been paved, and loose dirt preserved the marks. These prints traveled from the sassafras’s trunk to the steps of Fitzgerald Hardware then disappeared into the alley between his shop and Tabitha Arnold’s cobbler shop next door. I cocked my ears at the curious sound arising from her establishment. Brush, brush, brush. Brush, brush, brush. 

Eddy handed Sissy off to the man in black before addressing the crowd. “If anyone knows who committed this atrocity, please step forward. You will face no quarrel with me.”

“Or with Constable Harkness,” someone shouted. “If you can wake him from his nap!”

The crowd tittered with uneasy laughter.

I settled on a higher branch away from the dead cat and the flies. Just thinking about the cruelties my fellow feline suffered churned my stomach. I watched the men through the mitten-shaped leaves. Having moved here three moons ago, I’d encountered most of the humans in the neighborhood and recognized all but the gentleman soothing Sissy. He patted her shoulder and said, “Take comfort in Isaiah. Woe unto the wicked! It shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” I lifted my head and peered between the leafy branches to spy another unfamiliar face—an old man with a bent spine. He scratched his rear then his elbow then his long, white beard. Fleas. I made a note to avoid him in the future. He loitered between the buildings, away from the turmoil.

“Come now,” Eddy said, “surely one of you saw something?”

Brush, brush, brush. 

“Not me,” Mr. Cook said at last. A blustery fool who lived around the corner, his large protruding eyes reminded me of peeled onions. “Ask ol’ Eakins. Cats are his business.”

At Mr. Cook’s utterance of Eakins , the flea-ridden oldster scurried the way of the footprints and disappeared between the shops. Not a soul noticed—not a human soul, at any rate.

“Eakins?” Sissy asked. She’d recovered from the earlier shock and stood near her husband. “I don’t recall anyone by that name, and I’ve met most everyone on our street.”

“He stays to himself,” Mr. Cook said, “for our comfort as much as his.” He surveyed the diminishing crowd. The onlookers had begun to wander. “He was here a minute ago,” he said. “I’m sure of it.”

When the street had emptied of everyone except Mr. Cook and Mr. Fitzgerald, Eddy drew Sissy and the two men to the threshold of the hardware shop to discuss the event, speaking the phrase “killed the cat” more than once. Every so often, Sissy would glance at the tree and shake her head. Soon, the talk turned to lighter subjects, for the men began to chuckle and gesture with their hands. That was when Sissy left their company for mine, the dear girl. She stared up at me with a mournful expression, the rims of her large eyes wet. “Who would do such a thing, Cattarina? And why?”

From the lilt in her voice, she had questions for which I had no answers. Though I could not comprehend her speech, more than a language barrier prevented my response. The brutal killing of the tom had stripped me of reason. Who could have harmed the noblest of creatures? The finest, cleverest, handsomest of creatures?

“Well, we can’t leave him up there, can we? There has to be some dignity in death.” She laid her rosemary aside and reached for the rope around the cat’s neck. But the dear girl was too short to grasp it. So she tried to knock the cat’s body down with a slender branch she found near the roots. The more she twisted and turned the corpse to free it, however, the tighter the noose grew. Overcome by failure, she tossed the stick, leaned against the tree trunk, and wept into her handkerchief.

Eddy did not notice.

Brush, brush, brush.  The sound from the Arnold’s shop would plague my dreams tonight. I joined Sissy on the ground and rubbed along her skirt, doing my best to comfort her. The cat’s death had upset her more than I had imagined. Throughout our previous adventure, I had grown to…respect Sissy—yes, respect , that was the right word—and it pained me to see her in such a state.

She touched the tip of my tail, her fingers wet with tears. “No one should die in their prime, Cattarina. No one.”

While the black cat’s death presented me with another killer to catch and another story to inspire, it also filled me with dread. A murderer and  torturer lived in our new neighborhood, and I, for one, would not sleep until the scoundrel was caught.

The Peaceful Society of Friends

ONCE SISSY’S WEEPING REACHED Eddy, he left the gentlemen and joined us by the sassafras. “You mustn’t cry, Virginia. It isn’t good for you.” He brushed the tears from her cheek. “This has been a most unsettling morning for all of us. I think we should go home. Muddy will be expecting us for lunch.”

I trilled in agreement. Eddy and I shared the same concern: lunch . Yet I could delay my mid-day meal if it meant gathering more evidence. Last autumn, I learned the importance of early clue discovery; the longer one waited to find them, the more likely they were to sprout wings and fly south. In truth, I had become a ratiocinator in my own right, with powers rivaling Eddy’s Detective Dupin, and I had certain duties to fulfill. The fact that Constable Harkness hadn’t been summoned made my presence even more crucial. This  crime fell under feline jurisdiction.

“She’s serving cheddar and ham,” Eddy added. “And sour pickles. She told me on the way out—”

“How can you think about eating?” Sissy said. “We can’t leave until we bury this unfortunate soul.” She laced her fingers in front of her, signaling her resolve.

Eddy lifted his palms in supplication. “Be reasonable, Sissy. My tool is the pen, not the shovel. I am ill-equipped to dig.”

“I am not moving, husband, until that  cat is down from that  tree.” She pointed to both objects, underscoring her words.

Eddy would attempt to win the quarrel with appeals, but he could no more refuse Sissy than I him. Confident in the outcome, I headed toward the shops to look for evidence, entering the cobbler’s first to learn the source of that infernal brushing sound. I found the aged proprietress inside, hard at work. Tabitha Arnold sat near the window on a low stool, her back to the door and her face to the sun. In her hands she held a pair of black boots and a stiff horsehair brush dipped in—I wrinkled my nose—a mixture of beeswax and soot. She raked the bristles across the toe of the shoe. Brush, brush, brush.  At least one mystery had been solved.

I sniffed for the human scent I’d noted earlier, but an examination of the floorboards bore no fruit. The murderer had certainly worn shoes, masking his scent with a layer of leather. Had he been a customer? Further examination revealed nothing, not even a trace of citrus and lavender cologne. Before I could steal back to the street unnoticed, Mr. Fitzgerald appeared, blocking the doorway with his legs. I slunk to the shelves on the rear wall and hid behind a row of wooden foot forms in varying sizes.

The woman greeted Mr. Fitzgerald with a cool stare. “Have you something to say for yourself?” she asked. She set the boots on the floor and wiped her hands on her apron, smearing it with polish.

“Have I ?” Mr. Fitzgerald asked. “Have you ?”

She tucked a loose strand of gray behind a hairpin. “What do you mean by that?”

He tapped his thin bottom lip. “The cat. It was Abner’s doing, wasn’t it? Instead of settling the hash like gents, he used violence to make a point. How English of him.”

She sprang to her feet. “How dare you accuse him of something you’ve  done, you…you bogtrotter!”

Mr. Fitzgerald and Mrs. Arnold stared at each other, two mongrels on the brink of war. I shrank against the wooden feet and waited for blood. The woman surprised me when she sat down and picked up her horsehair brush again. “What’s the talk on the street?” she asked.

He leaned against the doorframe and crossed one ankle over the other. “Craic  is, Mr. Cook blames Mr. Eakins, and Reverend Bray blames the devil.”

“And you blame Abner.” She pointed the brush at him and scowled. “If you go spreading rumors about him that aren’t true, Mr. Fitzgerald, you won’t like the results. You’ll do well to keep your mouth shut.” She looked to her empty shop. “I ask you this: who’s going to shop near such a horrible scene? Business is bad enough as it is, what with that—”

Mr. Fitzgerald held up his hand. “Don’t say it. We’ve enough trouble this morning.” He crossed his arms. “Mr. Poe said it might bring people in,” he said. “The cat, that is. Curious onlookers and the like. You never know.”

“Harrumph. Only in Mr. Poe’s world.” She resumed her polishing. “He’s an odd bird, isn’t he? Flitting about in black, no matter the season. Dresses like a pallbearer, for heaven’s sake.”

“I think it suits him,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

Sensing the shift in mood, I stepped from my hiding place and padded toward the door. Mrs. Arnold spied me and clicked her tongue in disapproval. “We have a trespasser,” she whispered to Mr. Fitzgerald.

“We needn’t whisper in front of Cattarina,” he said. “She keeps all kinds of secrets. Don’t you, girl?” I meowed at my name, giving him a good laugh, though I knew not why. He stood at the threshold, preventing my departure. “Well, I’m gone,” he said to Mrs. Arnold. “The saws won’t sell themselves.” He hesitated. “Where is  Abner, by the way?”

“Under the weather.” She gave the boot a last pass with the brush.

Mr. Fitzgerald touched his protruding Adam’s apple with a look of concern. “Is something going round?”

“Yes.” She set the boots aside and picked up a new pair to shine. “Something’s going round, all right, and that’s Abner—round the tavern.”

Mr. Fitzgerald shifted, and I shot past his ankles into the street again. The scratch of the shoe brush had penetrated my teeth. I could not stand it any longer!

Once outside, I followed the footprint trail to the cut-through between shops. The shifty man with fleas had stood in this very spot, making me think he might be the murderer. I glanced at Eddy and Sissy—still deep in conversation—and ducked into the opening. After a few strides, I connected with a larger alley that ran the length of shops on Franklin. The prints led me north where they eventually stopped at a paved sidewalk on the other side. A dog could’ve pursued the culprit by scent alone. But since I had the good fortune to be born a cat, I’d need to use my superior intellect to continue. A brownstone with a gabled porch lay to the left of the alley; a small clapboard cottage with shutters and a weathervane lay to the right.

“Kitty! Kitty!” a little boy squealed. “Pet kitty!”

I backed away from his outstretched hands, narrowly escaping the tot’s grasp. Had I not been focused on the rooster atop the weathervane, I would’ve seen the two children traipsing past with their mother. The shorter, pudgier whelp had been the one to reach for me. The taller one—a littermate from his coloring—slapped his brother on the head. “Dang it all, Marvin. Don’t touch it. You’ll get fleas.”

The mother slapped the older boy on the head. “Don’t cuss, dang you.”

When first born, humans are little more than plucked chickens. It’s when they learn to walk upright that they become tail-yanking, whisker-pulling monsters. And then there are birthing complications. I hoped Eddy and Sissy would abstain from reproducing in the coming seasons. In my youth, I witnessed an unhappy outcome with a baby and did not wish to see another.

Once the family passed, I emerged again. Whenever we moved to a new locale, which was often, I made it my business to memorize street names as Eddy said them out loud. This, from our daily walks, I knew to be Green Street, the road around the corner from the Poe residence. It lacked the unkempt variability I’d grown to love and expect from the older areas of Philadelphia. I licked my paw and washed my face. A murderer lived in one of these mouse holes. Yet without more clues, finding him would be impossible.

I returned to Franklin to find Eddy on tiptoe, sawing the black cat’s noose with his penknife. Sissy waited nearby, offering suggestions, the majority of which perturbed him, judging by the slant of his brow. When I reached the tree, the tom fell at our feet. I hopped back, sickened by the hollow thud of his body against the earth. His remaining eye lay open, glazed and unblinking; the other had been gouged out by the murderer. This was speculation, of course, but one supported by observation and experience from the Glass Eye Killer case. The area around the cat’s eye held no claw marks, so he hadn’t lost it in a fight. This left accident or torture. Considering the manner of death, I’d bet my whiskers on the latter. Eddy, Sissy, and I remained silent until the wind rattled the sassafras leaves.

“We must bury him,” Sissy said. “In our garden.”

“We do not own a shovel,” Eddy said.

“Borrow one from Mr. Fitzgerald. I’m sure he has several in his store.”

“Shopkeepers are not usually in the habit of lending their wares, Sissy.”

“Then we will improvise.” She knelt and lifted the tom onto her skirt, folding the floral cotton around him. With the day’s increasing temperature, the body had taken on an unpleasant aroma. Sissy carried out her task undeterred, concealing the body in the folds of her dress. For all anyone knew, she could’ve been carrying potatoes home from the market.

“My dear…” Eddy pointed to her chemise. The white hem flashed in the sun.

“Let us hurry before I’m the talk of the town,” Sissy said. “And don’t forget the rosemary.”

We arrived home to find Muddy sweeping the front walkway. The trim on her lace cap framed her face like the petals o

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f a flower. I pitied the bee that made that  mistake. I trotted ahead of the others and nudged through the unlatched gate to join the old woman.

Our new red brick home was grander than the one on Coates, though no less cozy. Eaves protruded from either side—a bit like ears—and shaded twin entrances that opened onto to allotments of grass. The parlor garden, on the eastern side near North Seventh, held flowers and a spindly weeping willow. The kitchen garden, on the western side, consisted of a vegetable patch and a small plot of dirt bordered by a fence snarled with morning glories. In temperate weather, Muddy and Sissy would pull their kitchen chairs under the western eave to shell peas or shuck corn. On the rare occasion I did not accompany Eddy to the tavern, I stayed behind to chase the errant pod or husk that slipped from their fingers. We had left Fairmount and the country, but we had not left good times, not yet.

When Muddy caught Sissy with her skirt hiked to her knees, she dropped the broom and gasped. “Virginia Eliza Poe!” she said. “What has become of you?”

“Nothing, Mother.” Sissy gathered her skirt tighter so as not to lose the carcass.

“You are half-naked. Put your dress down before the neighbors see.” Muddy’s lips disappeared beneath the press of her mouth.

“Dear Muddy,” Eddy said, handing her the herbs, “ours is a long story, and you are adding unnecessarily to the length. Allow me to edit.” He led Sissy through the gate and up the walkway to the old woman. “Join us by the vegetable patch with your largest kitchen spoon, and all will be revealed.”

“What is that smell?” Muddy asked. She held her finger under her nose.

“The cat, Mother,” Sissy said.

Muddy leaned to sniff me. Curious woman.

“No, it’s not Cattarina,” Sissy said. “It’s…well, you will see.” She set off for the kitchen garden and disappeared around the corner of the house.

Muddy retrieved her broom and squinted at Eddy. “What have you done—”

He held up his hand, stopping the conversation. “I have not done anything. This is Virginia’s scheme, and we must support her.”

They spoke a moment longer and joined Sissy. I elected to go inside. Whatever they planned to do with the remains concerned me less than the aroma wafting through the kitchen window. I leaped to the sill with some effort—the winter months had been bountiful—and entered Muddy’s domain. She’d laid out a plate of sliced ham and cheddar on the table, along with a loaf of bread, a crock of pickles, and a pitcher of water. Lunch was served. A cat of lesser intelligence would have plundered the platter. Not I. Over time, I’d perfected the art of skimming—take enough to be full, leave enough that one’s theft is not obvious. As long as Muddy considered me inept, the kitchen would remain a cornucopia.

I leapt to the table and admired the old woman’s handiwork. She’d fanned the meat and cheese in an alternating pattern. I licked the salt off the ham slices without disturbing them then peeled the top piece from the stack and ate it. A slice of cheese came next. The bread bored me, and the pickles repulsed me. I finished with a few laps of cool water from the jug and left the house through the parlor window. From what I’d gleaned, Sissy meant to bury the dead cat, as humans often did for one another at the end of life. I had no need for this unnatural ritual. I preferred to honor the tom in a more practical way—by catching his murderer.

I trotted through the garden to North Seventh where I doubled back onto Green, the same street I’d happened upon after my trip through the alley. I wasn’t naïve enough to think I’d find my prey by accident. On the contrary, I planned to seek out his potential victims and extract information from which to devise a hunting strategy.

Confident in my plan, I strode through the neighborhood, head high, gait quick and light, in search of fellow cats. One might’ve mistaken this section of Philadelphia for a cemetery, it was that quiet. Unlike western Spring Garden District, the people of eastern Spring Garden District—Eddy called them Quakers —kept to themselves.

The roads held carriages, but many travelers preferred to walk in silence. I hoped their feline companions leaned more toward congeniality and that my presence would not raise fur. I had not yet reached the Franklin intersection when I observed two tabbies—one orange and white, the other pale gray. “Hello!” I called to them. They did not answer and waited for me to approach their front steps. I did so guardedly, praying I hadn’t provoked a fight with the block’s toughest ferals. “I am Cattarina. I live in the Poe house at the end of the street.” I waved my tail in the general direction of home.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, friend,” the gray tom said. “I am George, and this is Margaret.” He nodded to the orange and white tabby. “We live with Thaddeus Beal.”

“Welcome to Green Street,” Margaret said. She had impossibly long whiskers. “You’ll find a peaceful society in this neighborhood. We offer our blessings.”

My ear twitched. I could not fathom a non-violent gathering of felines, save for one in the bastion of my mind. Immanuel Katt’s theories of utopia are stunning; sadly, they remain out of reach. The only semi-peaceful society I’d met had been Big Blue’s troop near the penitentiary, and even they weren’t above aggression. “If I am welcome,” I countered, “then you won’t mind answering questions.”

“Questions delight the mind, miss,” George said. His dull coat had the color and density of a thundercloud. I pictured a lightning strike in its midst.

“Do you know of the black cat?” I asked. “The one that was hanged this morning?”

Margaret sat and wrapped her ginger tail around her feet. “We know of him.”

“Who was his owner?”

George looked to Margaret then back to me. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.

“It is important to my companion,” I lied. While Eddy had an interest in the tom’s death, I had become obsessed with it. “Please.”

“Should we tell her?” Margaret asked George.

George blinked his approval.

“The Butcher of Green Street,” she said. “He makes cats disappear.”

Jolley Spirits

MARGARET’S DECLARATION SOURED MY stomach more than the wooly cheese I’d pilfered from the cooling cupboard yesterday. “The Butcher of Green Street,” I repeated. “I gather sausage is not his specialty.”

“Unless you mean cat sausage,” George said.

“Surely you speak in jest,” I said.

“They go in,” Margaret said with a tremor, “but they don’t come out.” She glanced over her shoulder before speaking again. “The black cat disappeared into the Butcher’s house around the quarter moon. Now he’s swinging from a tree. Draw your own conclusions.”

“You said ‘They  go in.’ Have there been others?” I asked.

“Yes. It all started with the Water Giants.”

I flicked the end of my tail. “That is utter hyperbole.”

“Hi-purr -bo-lee?” She cocked her head. “I have never heard of it. But I am very  sure of my facts. The Water Giants made the mistake of sleeping on the Butcher’s doorstep one night. The next morning, they were gone. Just ask them if you don’t believe me.”

“If they are gone,” I said, “how can I ask them?”

“Precisely,” George said with a sniff. “After that, other ferals vanished. Always near the Butcher’s home. No one knows what he does with them, but I’ve heard rumors of a cat cookery book—”

“George!” Margaret said. “Gossiping is most unseemly. Our Thaddeus would not approve.”

George dipped his head.

Cat cookery book? No matter how sorry I felt for the black feline, I would not sacrifice my life to give meaning to his. The Poe household, namely Eddy, depended on me, and getting ground into sausage would complicate matters. Moreover, I have never been fond of mustard. And yet…curiosity, the cat, and all of that. “If I wanted to see this human, where would I find him?” I asked.

“A half block down, across the street,” George said. “The one with petunias in the window boxes. Don’t say we didn’t warn you, miss.”

“I will take your words to heart,” I said. “If anything, I now know which house to avoid.”

The door to George and Margaret’s home opened, and Mr. Thaddeus Beal—a drably clothed man with spectacles—summoned them with a kissy sound. George dashed inside. Margaret hesitated. “Give up this pursuit before it’s too late,” she said to me. “Promise you will, Cattarina.”

“I promise. Cat’s honor.” I waited for her to leave then started for home. Though I longed to avenge the tom’s murder, I had met a villain too despicable to hunt. Fancy a Leg of Manx tonight, dear? With mint jelly? No, thank you. I’d much rather dine on Tortie Pot Pie.  Cat cookery book, indeed.

As I neared North Seventh, I noted a grey plume rising in the vicinity of home. This new area heralded surprises at every turn. I trotted ahead and rounded the corner, discovering the smoke’s source—the Poe residence. Scents of char and kerosene wafted from the rear of the structure.

Egad, the house was on fire!

Nothing distracted Eddy from writing. Nothing. I envisioned him looking up from his desk, pondering aloud about the warmth of his bedroom floor, and dipping his pen to resume work. Muddy must have fallen asleep at the stove again! I leapt over the picket fence and dashed toward what I feared would be a raging kitchen fire. I collapsed with relief at the small blaze in the kitchen garden.

Clad in her brown checked everyday  dress, Sissy stood over the burning remnants of the rose print frock she’d worn to market, tending the flames with a rake. Eddy stood next to her, arm around her shoulder. A heap of stones had been piled beneath the morning glory vines in the corner of the yard. The final resting place of the victim, I surmised.

“Mother said it was beyond repair, and Mother would know,” Sissy said.

“I don’t have the means to replace it,” he said, looking at the dress.

“Do not fret, Eddy,” she said. “I would give a hundred gowns to know his soul is at peace. And now that he has a memorial,”—she gestured to the mound of stones—“he will not be forgotten.”

Eddy kissed her forehead. “He will never  be forgotten.”

The breeze lifted a cinder into the air. It popped and flashed, clinging to life, before vanishing into the firmament.

“You are too good for this world, Virginia. Too good.” He tucked his thumbs in his vest pockets. “I will buy you another dress when I can. In the meantime, I will give the black cat a fine eulogy—a story of his own. Will that satisfy you?”

“Yes. Very much.” She smiled, her face wan. “When will you begin?”

“At once,” Eddy said. He looked to me with lifted eyebrows. “Catters? Where have you been?” He snapped his fingers. “Lunch can wait. We have work to do.”

On our way into the house, Eddy tripped on a nail head protruding from the threshold. “Don’t tell Muddy,” he said to me, “or she’ll be after me to fix it.”

We entered and climbed the winding staircase to his writing chamber on the middle floor. Instead of officing in the parlor, as he’d done on Coates, he’d taken to working in solitude. I believed this was for the better. Not only did the eastern window capture more light, it looked out onto a splendid stretch of road. Whenever the ink stopped flowing, he would stand, stretch, and watch the parade of humanity. This gave him the thrust to finish his work. I, too, loved the view. Swifts would fly in at candle-light, pricking my ears with chatter, and roost inside the chimneys of Spring Garden. I imagined Auntie Sass slinking along the rooftops, hunting them into oblivion.

Eddy lifted the window sash, and I settled onto his desk to supervise the preparations. Two pens he owned: one of common goose, which he used for hasty notes, the other of crow, which he used for manuscripts, official correspondence, and so forth. The crow offered a finer point that made writing in a small, neat hand easier. As expected, he plucked the black quill from its wire holder, withdrew his penknife from his pocket, and shaved the nib to his liking. The scraping lulled me into a purr. Once he’d prepared the instrument, he uncorked the ink, a blackish-brownish liquid that smelled of rust, and laid out a clean piece of paper, cut the day before from a long scroll. The day’s writing could begin.

He dipped his pen and drew marks across the top of the page. “‘The Black Cat,’” he said. “An obvious title but a fitting one, eh, Catters?”

I hopped on his shoulder and surveyed the work. The scrawl looked like a dribbling of weak tea now but would soon dry to a strong, fine brown—the color of Eddy’s hair. I meowed with approval and resumed my spot on the desk. He stroked my back then sat forward to write, completing several lines before stopping again. “Listen, Catters, and tell me if I have captured the requisite voice.” He took up the paper and read aloud: “For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not—and very surely do I not dream.”

I stretched and yawned, curling my tongue. Life was much too comfortable to pursue a man who made sausage of cats. Although something about the challenge piqued my curiosity. I wondered if I had enough stamina to chase such a villain. Alas, I’d regained some—not all—of the weight I’d lost last fall. Blasted pot roast dinners. It was almost as if Muddy wanted  me to eat them, the way she left them on the sideboard time and again. I rolled on my back, exposing my ample mid-section. Eddy tickled my stomach with his quill, and I batted the feather more out of obligation than interest. I shut my eyes and waited for the pleasant scratch of goose nib on paper once again.

Some period afterward, light played across my eyelids. I awoke to find Eddy slumped in his chair, the penknife—not the quill—between his fingers. He turned the sharp object, catching a ray of sun with the blade. Any other day, his fascination with the knife would have raised little concern. Today, however, was not any other day, not with a one-eyed cat planted in the garden.

“What would possess a man, Cattarina? What?” He looked at me with pained expression. “I could not fathom it, unless…” He placed the penknife in a leather case that he tucked in his jacket pocket. “Come, Catters. Jolley Spirits awaits.”

I accompanied him out of concern, for I did not like Mr. Jolley, nor did I like the effect of Mr. Jolley’s spirits on my companion. They dulled my companion’s wits, a fact apparent to everyone but him. We descended the steps and entered the kitchen where he cobbled together bread, cheese, and ham pulled from the cooling cabinet. He finished by heaping the concoction with a generous portion of mustard and sour pickle.

Sissy poked her head into the room, embroidery hoop in hand. “I see you have an appetite, my love.”

“I have a great thirst as well.”

“For water?”

Eddy chuckled.

“For words?”

Eddy did not answer. He wrapped his sandwich in a kitchen cloth, folding and tying it with great consideration. From the attention he gave the bundle, I would have thought it no less important than a manuscript.

Sissy’s gaze fell to the floor. “When will you be back?”

Eddy tied the top of the cloth and headed for the back door. “Before dinner. I swear it.” He held up his hand in oath. “Catters will keep me out of trouble. Do not worry.”

Sissy regarded me, her jaw clenched. This winter, I had become not just her nursemaid but also his. Like the morning glory vines in the back garden, Eddy and Sissy’s woes grew in tangles, each pulling the other down, until the couple’s fate became inseparably entwined: the sicker Sissy grew, the more broken Eddy became; the more broken Eddy became, the sicker Sissy grew. It was enough to drive a cat mad.

“Very well,” she said. “If you must.”


Eddy and I arrived at Jolley Spirits, a tavern on Spring Garden. Trimmed by a ripped awning, the single-story eyesore sat amongst newer, taller edifices, and had—of all things—a stable out back. The interior was no less squalid. We took our usual table near the window. The air smelled faintly of horse dung, a scent I attributed to someone’s boots. From the crumb-covered tabletop, I assessed the crowd. Men with sooty faces—rowdies from the rail depot—had gathered around the bar. They shouted and slapped one another’s backs in a manner most aggressive, disturbing a table of dark-suited gentlemen in the back. Despite occasional jeers from both sides, spirits flowed, and a war between the camps seemed unlikely. I thought about starting one later for my own amusement.

Eddy untied his kitchen bundle. “Sissy worries about me, Catters,” he said in a low voice. “But it is I  who should do the worrying, don’t you think?” He lifted the sandwich to take a bite. “Virginia was so…despondent when we left and over a trivial matter.” His face soured. “Curses, I have lost my appetite again.” He shrouded his lunch with the cloth, laying it to rest. “I am certain it is ‘The Black Cat.’”

I recognized these words from our writing session. Had he been referring to this morning’s feline? Or his story? I couldn’t be sure. Either way, I was glad the tom’s death still occupied his mind because it had yet to leave mine. I thought about the killer—the Butcher of Green Street—while I groomed my haunches.

“At any rate, I cannot seem to—” Eddy stopped mid-sentence when Mr. Jolley, the barkeep, arrived with a glass of port wine.

“How is my best customer?” Mr. Jolley asked. A hideous old man with fewer teeth than fingers, he’d outlived most humans. He set the drink before Eddy and reached for me with a spotted hand. Blue veins bulged beneath his thinning skin. I flattened my ears and growled, letting the pitch rise to match my agitation. He heeded the warning and withdrew. Common sense may have been his lone attribute. “Your cat is most peculiar, Mr. Poe,” he said.

Eddy slid a coin across the table then took a draught of wine before speaking. “Peculiar, yes. Most  peculiar? Good sir, you have not met my mother-in-law.”

Mr. Jolley chuckled, dabbing the corner of his mouth with his sleeve. His dark suit smelled of cedar and dust. “I have seen Maria Clemm on the street, and she is a fetching woman.”

“She is  rather good at retrieving,” Eddy said.

Mr. Jolley’s chuckle turned into a belly laugh. “Oh, Mr. Poe, I beg you! Stop at once!”

“It is all in jest,” Eddy said. “I could not do without dear Muddy. She is my salvation.” He finished his wine and set the glass down with finality.

He pointed to the empty vessel. “Another?”

Eddy hesitated.

“How is your magazine coming?”

“No longer the Penn , it is the Stylus , revived and restyled under better auspices. And while the Pioneer  and others like it have collapsed, the Stylus  is in capable hands.”

“Is that right?” Mr. Jolley held onto the back of a nearby chair. “I read Mr. Clark withdrew his support. Unless the Saturday Museum  prints lies these days.”

Eddy shifted in his seat.

“Let me get that refill,” Mr. Jolley said, hobbling away. “Good afternoon, Mr. Arnold!” he shouted to a departing patron. “Give my best to Tabitha!”

Mr. Arnold, the cobbler of Franklin Street, sneered in reply. A coarse man with a bulbous nose, he slumped more than walked. One could argue that his frame had been sewn of wet burlap. And, dear me, his sun-worn skin needed polishing more than the boots in his shop. When he passed our table, he jerked one of the empty chairs, startling us both. I flattened my ears and hissed. “What are you looking at?” he bellowed. “Well? Answer me!”

“Nothing, sir. I pride myself on minding my business,” Eddy said. He must have responded on my behalf since Mr. Arnold had addressed me, not him.

“People shouldn’t bring animals into public houses.” He spat tobacco on the floor near our table. “It’s not sanitary.” His crazed laughter lasted all the way out the door. “It’s not sanitary!” he shouted again before crossing the street.

“That fellow is corned, Catters, from top to tail. No wonder Mrs. Arnold stays ill-humored.”

In a fashion, Mr. Jolley brought another glass of port. Once Eddy finished it, the old man returned with yet another, walking more briskly than I would have guessed his age would allow.

“No, Mr. Jolley,” Eddy said. He held up his hand in refusal. “I have had enough.”

Even I , humble cat that I am, understood his answer. Mr. Jolley, however, did not, or rather pretended he did not. With a gummy smile, he set the drink in front of my companion and left. The barkeep gave me many reasons to hate him, but this bested them all. Josef, the server at Shakey House Tavern, always heeded Eddy’s wishes. I’d even seen him refuse Eddy when my friend’s gait grew uncertain or his speech slurred. Not Mr. Jolley. He cared more for coins than people.

Eddy sipped the blood-hued liquid and watched a couple on the street. The youngsters strolled past the tavern windows, elbows linked beneath a shared parasol. How rosy their cheeks; how gay their steps! The woman laughed with nary a cough and tugged her beau toward an oyster vendor across the way. Eddy’s gaze fell to his wine glass. When the rising chatter of patrons interrupted his contemplation, he took the penknife from his pocket again.

As he toyed with the blade, his expression changed from one of concentration to one of despair, signaling the return of his melancholy. As they’d done so many times before, clouds overtook him, dampening his spirits with unremitting drizzle. This came as no surprise. One cannot hide from the tempest when it resides in one’s heart. Yet changing the weather was as easy—or as hard—as stoking his imagination. I’d learned this during our last adventure.

“What state of mind must a man possess to commit this morning’s atrocity?” Eddy placed the object on the table next to me for my perusal. I sniffed it, detecting the scent of crow—nothing out of the ordinary. “An enraged state, an altered state…” He picked up the glass again and held it to the sunlight, casting a dappled reflection on the table. “I still do not know how anyone with a right mind could kill a cat,” he said to me.

Kill a cat. 

Grasping tail in teeth, I worked on a cocklebur I’d picked up in the market. Constable Harkness wouldn’t likely jail a cat killer. But tracking down the murderer and involving Eddy in the hunt would blow away the storm. Sissy, too, might be cheered by our exertions. Nevertheless, one thing prevented my endorsement: the cat cookery book. I stood and stretched, anticipating the arrival of Mr. Jolley. To banish the pall over the Poe family, I would immerse us in the mystery of the hanged cat.

As I sharpened my claws on the table, I questioned whether or not I had the speed and tenacity to bring down a human again. Winter feasting had given me a roundish, fattish shape, akin to a lump of dough—a detriment to fieldwork. If I couldn’t shake my sloth, I might end up on the Butcher’s plate next to boiled turnips. The floorboards vibrated. I turned to find the old raisin nearing with more blasted refreshment.

I crouched.

“Here you are, Mr. P—”

I flew at Mr. Jolley’s face, scratching and clawing with my own set of penknives. He dropped the glass—my objective—and held his arm aloft. This protected his rheumy eyes and little else. With unusual vengeance, I latched onto the limb, shredding the thin skin of his elbow like newspaper. He would not serve another drink to Eddy tonight, maybe not even tomorrow. I withdrew and waited by the door for a swift exit.

Mr. Jolley slipped and skated on the bloody port pooling underfoot, unable to gain his balance. “Get out!” he screamed. “You and that damnable cat, get out!”

The rail yard rowdies and the gentleman laughed, united in his ridicule.

Eddy grabbed his penknife and tucked it away. “Shall I come back tomorrow?”

“Out!” Mr. Jolley clutched his injured arm and fell into a chair.

We departed full chisel , leaving Jolley Spirits behind. Cookery book be damned. Catching the Butcher would be no problem for a cat like me.

Cat Cookery for Beginners

I ACCOMPANIED EDDY AS far as our front garden and waited for him to enter before skittering back to Green Street. With extreme care, I approached the house with the window boxes—a little down, a little across from the Franklin cut-through—stopping short at the neighboring brownstone. From the holly bushes next door, I surveyed the Butcher’s lair. His bottom floor windows hung open, and the curtains billowed in and out with the draft. Trim garden, new paint, clean walkway—I found nothing awry, save for wilting petunias. The dwelling looked innocuous enough. But then, so had the Glass Eye Killer’s, and the dangers that lurked behind his door had been genuine.

Margaret’s caution returned as I slunk into the open. “He makes cats disappear,” she’d said. I dismissed it and hopped the low wrought iron fence surrounding the Butcher’s property. A cage large enough for a parrot sat to the right of the front door, but the contraption was empty, lacking perch, seed cup, and, chiefly, a feathered occupant. A horse and carriage rolled by on the cobblestones, clackety-clack , startling me. When I faced the house again, a figure loomed in the window beyond the curtain veil.

I froze.

When my legs could hold their position no longer, I disappeared into a cluster of zinnias, stirring a patch of butterflies. The Butcher would leave at some point and walk by the flower patch, giving me access to his ankle. A well-placed strike to this area would incapacitate him. I flexed my claws. Once he fell, his eye would be mine. I swatted the last remaining butterfly, scraping it into paste. Street justice was a concept most familiar to an ex-feral like me. And then I thought of Eddy and the scorn he would heap upon this act of retribution.

In the twitch of a whisker, I’d sunk to a place unbefitting a cat of my status, a cat who cohabitated with an esteemed man of letters. I lowered my chin to my paws. While the Butcher deserved a punishment equal to one he’d doled out, I would bring him to his knees and nothing more.

The hinges cried as the front door swung open. My stomach tightened. “Heeeere kitty, kitty,” the Butcher called. His voice cracked from strain or disuse, I could not tell which. This much I knew: the zinnia patch had grown smaller. Or maybe I had grown larger. Both were possible. “Heeeere kitty, kitty.” He descended the stone steps to the garden.

The flowers obstructed my view of his face, though from his gait I judged him to be a man of advanced years. Considering my success with Mr. Jolley, I had less to fear than I’d originally thought. I unsheathed my claws and lifted my paw to assault the oldster. I would be home for tea.

“There’s a pretty kitty,” he said. He stopped at the flower patch, casting me in a crooked shadow. It was the man with the bent spine.

I spat in terror, not at his outstretched hands but at the object between them—a net.


The struggle had been epic—a vicious roiling of claws and teeth and tail—and one, I dare say, worthy of Eddy’s pen, yet it belonged to me alone. Once the Butcher threw the net, he stood aside and let me wind deeper into the ropes until even my whiskers could not wiggle. What a sight I must have been—Philadelphia’s only ball of yarn with a cat inside. After I surrendered, he scooped me up and dumped me into the large birdcage next to the front door. The Gazette  lined the bottom of the prison, completing the indignity. What next? A cup of seeds?

The Butcher knelt and appraised me. A wave of white hair and beard covered much of his face, though his eyes remained bright. The faded green of winter grass, they shone beneath his hooded lids, suggesting a quick mind. He stood and picked up my cage with some effort. “Oh, me, you’re a heavy thing, aren’t you? They’re feeding you well.”

He took me inside where he placed me on the kitchen table next to a cutting board of diced onion and carrot. A pot of water boiled on the stove. Queasiness replaced hunger when I realized the scoundrel meant to serve me for dinner. I imagined myself, tied up like a pot roast, surrounded by vegetables. In a panic, I pawed the latch to free myself.

The Butcher bent the wire hook and fastened the cage door tighter. “Not to worry, pretty kitty.” He chuckled. “I’ll take you out when it’s time to eat.”

I settled into the corner of my enclosure and watched as he retrieved a leather-bound notebook and a stick of charred wood from the cupboard. He sat down at the table, flipped to a new page in his book, and started to sketch. I assumed I  was the subject of his portrait since a handsome cat with patches of light and dark fur and the most exquisite ears took shape

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beneath the charcoal. To finish, he scribbled a series of notes beneath the drawing. I could not read them, of course…I swished my tail. Great Cat Above! I had been entered into the cookery book!

The Water Giants

HORRIFIED BY THE CAT cookery book, I lurched against the cage, thinking to knock it sideways and break it open. The Butcher responded by depositing my prison beneath the table and draping a large kitchen cloth over its top. I thumped my tail. I was a cat, nay, a tortoiseshell  cat, and I would not be hidden away like a noisy parakeet. There I keened with great volume: yoooow, yoooow, yoooow, yoooow . I hoped George and Margaret would heed the call since they—not Eddy—lived close enough to hear it.

“Hush now, pretty kitty,” he said. “Just a little longer.”

The Butcher’s admonishment mattered not, and I continued to wail, stopping only when he banged lid and pot together. Alarmed by the noise, I ceased and prayed for deliverance. I imagined Eddy at the kitchen table, drinking tea and eating gingersnaps, his shirtfront full of crumbs. With the strong connection between us, my visions usually held some  veracity of mood, if not manner, so it jarred me to picture him joking with Sissy and Muddy, giving no thought to my whereabouts. Who could blame him after my spat with Mr. Jolley? I crouched in the corner, remaining quiet lest the Butcher bang another pot.

Come sundown, the Poe household would suffer if I weren’t there to help Muddy with the leftovers, warm Sissy’s lap, or coax another page of writing from Eddy. The Butcher tossed another log into the woodstove. Come sundown, I  would suffer. I had but one option left: wait until the cage door opened and come out fighting like Auntie Sass. If the old man were  to make a meal of me, he would earn it.

For an agonizing period, I listened to the clink of teacups and the clatter of cupboard doors as the Butcher prepared for the feast. The cadence of his footfall created music upon the floorboards that would have soothed me in brighter circumstances. Now the vibrations jarred my muscles, plucking them like the strings of Sissy’s old harp. Just when I’d become accustomed to his steps, they increased in speed, traversed the kitchen, and faded from hearing. “Goodbye, Silas! Goodbye, Samuel!” he called.

Silas  and Samuel ? To whom did these names belong? The Butcher’s offspring? The wondering petrified me more than the knowing.

The front door opened and closed.

The house fell quiet, save for the crackle of the woodstove.

Clever Butcher. He’d said these names as a ruse to keep me inside my cage. He hadn’t counted on my tenacity. I reached my paw through the bars to try the latch again. The wire held fast. A second and third try yielded disappointment as well. I’d just begun to study the lock when paws padded toward me. Silas and Samuel? I ducked low to see beneath the kitchen cloth, but dash-it-all, the fabric reached the floor. I sniffed through the bars, detecting toms of middle age, perhaps from the same litter. If they supported the Butcher as I did Eddy, crisis had just given way to calamity.

“Should we say hello, Silas?” the first tom asked.

“It would be rude not to, Samuel,” the other said.


“Well, aren’t you going to say something?” Samuel said.

“Oh, I thought you  were going to say something,” Silas said.

A sneeze. More silence.

“Won’t someone  speak?” I said.

A large cat ducked beneath the kitchen cloth. Dark and light gray stripes graced his fur, and tufts of white adorned his chest and underbelly, giving his coat a dapper suit-and-shirtfront pattern. Large did not begin to describe him. I had never seen a cat of such grandiose proportion. And his ears! Fur tipped their ends, swooping them even higher than mine, like those of a lynx. Had I not been scared, I would have been envious. “Hello,” he said to me. “I am Samuel.”

“Please,” I begged him, “let me out before the man comes back and cooks me.”

Samuel cocked his head. “Cooks you?”

Silas joined us beneath the cloth. His markings were almost identical to Samuel’s, save for white-tipped toes. “Cooks you?” Silas repeated. “No, no, no. He does not cook cats. He has another end in mind. He’s going to—”

The front door opened and closed.

“Our Robert returns,” Samuel said to Silas. “To the parlor, brother. At once!”

The two toms vanished from view.

“Go? Wait! What fate? What fate!” I shouted after them.

Two humans entered the kitchen, one with the gait of the old man, one with a lighter step. Splendid. A dinner party. With renewed vigor, I reached a paw through the bars and tried to bat the lock open one last time. When that failed, I sank my teeth into the metal. Imagine my surprise when a hand snatched the cloth from my cage.

“There you are, Cattarina!” Sissy said. Her face burned red beneath her bonnet. The walk to Green Street had winded her. “I’m glad you are safe.”

Sissy, dear Sissy! I yowled to state my displeasure. Then I yowled again, varying the intonation to let her know I unabashedly approved of her presence. The Butcher pulled my enclosure into the open and set it on the tabletop again. He motioned Sissy to a chair and took one for himself, placing his leather-bound cookery book on the table.

“I can’t thank you enough, Mr. Eakins,” Sissy said. She untied the strings of her bonnet and removed it. “Cattarina wanders off with some frequency, causing my husband undue worry.” She smoothed her hair into place.

You  do not worry?”

“No.” She winked at me. “Cattarina is a first-rate gadabout.”

“In any event, I’m glad to be of service. To all cats.” He wiggled a finger inside my cage.

It took some restraint, but I didn’t bite him. Doing so now would complicate matters, as it had done with Mr. Jolley. So I sniffed his hand instead. Great Cat Above! The Butcher’s scent varied from the one on the rope, which meant he hadn’t hung the black tom. I had been so preoccupied that I hadn’t noticed before. While this conclusion reassured me, I had, nevertheless, drawn it from parrot prison.

“Cats are your business, aren’t they, Mr. Eakins?” Sissy wiped a bit of sweat from her neck with a handkerchief. “That is what I heard on the street today.”

“You heard right.” His eyes crinkled at the corners. “Tea?”

“Yes, please.”

Tea?  The woman had lost her faculties. Could she not fathom my predicament? I was a captive, for kitty’s sake.

The Butcher—or Mr. Eakins?—crossed to the cook stove and poured hot water from the once-boiling pot into two waiting cups. He returned with their refreshments, taking a seat once more. “I have no cream or sugar, Mrs. Poe. Please accept my apologies. My meager income is spent on my…business, as you say.”

Sissy took the cup from him and placed it on the table. “That’s a lovely book you showed me earlier. The one with Cattarina’s sketch.”

“Oh, me, yes,” he said. “It’s taken years of meticulous work.” He, too, set his teacup aside and reached for his notebook. “Every cat I rescue gets a page. I sketch their picture and make notes about their health, the location in which I discovered them, any distinguishing marks, and so on before I find them a new home. It’s quite consuming. Philadelphia is overrun with the creatures.” He opened the book to my entry and handed it to Sissy with a shaky hand. “Now that I’m too old to work for Mr. Lansing—I was a law clerk, you know—I spend my days on this. It keeps me from thinking too much about Mrs. Eakins, God rest her soul.”

“So the cat hanging this morning…”


She flashed her teeth. “You had nothing to do with it!”

“Dear, me, no. In fact, just talking about it upsets my stomach. I feel partly to blame.”

“Why? Because despite saving so many strays you couldn’t save the one?”

Mr. Eakins hesitated. “As I said, Mrs. Poe, I’d rather not talk about it.”

“You have done enough good in this world. Let that be of comfort.” She thumbed through the book, perusing a few sketches before shutting it. “Mr. Eakins, I’m glad we crossed paths.”

“As am I. I knew the tortoiseshell belonged to you because I saw you out with her this morning. She’s a pretty thing, isn’t she?” He unhitched the latch and opened the cage door.

I flew onto Sissy’s lap, anchoring my claws into the brown checked fabric of her dress. Sweet freedom at last! She laid her hand on my back to comfort me, and I settled at once into the folds of her skirt, shifting to an uneasy calm. To make my position clear, I turned my ears back and fixed the old man with a stare. I would not suffer the cage again.

Before long, Silas and Samuel trotted into the room, their fat tails bobbing behind them. Sissy touched her collarbone. “Mr. Eakins, those are the largest felines I have ever seen. They are as big as bobcats. And their tails! Why, they look like feather dusters!” She replaced his book on the table and leaned forward to study the pair.

“They are from Maine, Mrs. Poe. Do you like them?” When she nodded, Mr. Eakins added, “They are called Coon Cats. If you think they’re special now, just wait.” He retrieved a bucket of well water from the bottom of the cupboard and set it in front of Silas and Samuel. They took no interest. “Prepare to be fascinated,” he told Sissy. At this, he produced a jug cork from his pocket and floated it on top of the liquid, giving it a spin to set it moving.

To my bewilderment, Silas and Samuel dipped their paws into the bucket and played with the cork, batting it as one might a fish. Before long, water covered the floor, even dampening their tails with the vile liquid. I shuddered at the thought of it between my toes. How much grooming would it take to put them to rights again? When my paws tingled at the thought, I licked them. Why, Silas and Samuel might not even be cats at all. They might be— I looked again to the brothers. I had found the Water Giants mentioned by George and Margaret. Mr. Thaddeus Beal’s companions had been right, or partly right, about the cookery book as well. But they had been wrong about the old man. The Butcher was nothing more than a false goliath built of rumor and dread.

“Hello,” Samuel said to me. He shook the water from his paws and hopped to Mr. Eakin’s lap, engulfing his companion in a mat of fur and bones.

Sissy and Mr. Eakins continued their conversation, which we ignored.

“Why didn’t you tell me before that Mr. Eakins meant no harm?” I asked Samuel.

“No one is ever in danger here,” he said. “I thought you knew that.” He looked to Silas. The other tom had fished the cork from the bucket and was chewing it to crumbles. “She didn’t know, brother,” Samuel said to him. “Brother?”

Silas turned his back to us and finished killing the cork.

“Don’t mind him,” Samuel said to me. “Once you do away with all the mice, that leaves little else to hunt.”

“The feeling is familiar.” I thought about telling him of my escapades but decided against it. The City of Brotherly Love had room for only one feline ratiocinator. “Mr. Eakins took you in and gave you a home?”

“Yes, a very good one. We don’t leave much. He thinks it best that we stay inside. But we sneak out on occasion. Mostly at night.”

“And the book he keeps?”

“It’s a record of all the feral cats he’s rescued over the seasons.” Samuel jumped to the table and pawed the notebook open. “There are many pictures. Too many to count.”

I joined him and looked over his shoulder at the sketches. “And what becomes of them?”

“He finds them homes, of course.”

“What do you know about the hanged cat this morning?”

Samuel crooked his tail. “What hanged cat? We do not get out much.”

With Samuel’s next swipe, the book fell open to the middle. A tom with luxurious fur and a white mark on his chest stared back at me from the page, his coat the color of…Midnight . My old pal from Rittenhouse did not come from noble lineage, as he’d once said. He’d been born feral, like me, the cad.

Sissy picked me up and laid me over her shoulder like a fox stole. “Thank you again, Mr. Eakins. I don’t know how I can repay your kindness.”

“You have repaid it by giving Cattarina a good home.” He showed us to front the door.

Samuel followed, scampering behind Sissy. “What was the black cat’s name?” I asked him. “The one with the white mark on his chest?”

“Mr. Eakins named him Crow because he was as black as—”

“Yes, how fitting,” I said. This very afternoon, I would confront Midnight about his lies. He would soon eat an uncomfortable portion of his namesake.

Rittenhouse Redux 

WHAT NERVE MIDNIGHT HAD, masquerading as a house-born cat when he’d sprung from the gutter like me. Our relationship commenced last fall when I was but a fledgling crime solver. I’d tracked my quarry, the Glass Eye Killer, as far as Rittenhouse Square before running out of clues and ideas. That’s when I happened upon Midnight—a chance meeting that led to, I am loath to admit, an infatuation. He dazzled me with kittenhood tales of velvet pillows, everlasting tuna, and silken collars, and in my naiveté, I believed every word. Having spent my formative years as a stray, living in a wooden crate behind Osgood’s Odd Goods, I was in no position to judge the veracity of his stories. Looking back, his proclivity for theft had  hinted at a less than fortuitous upbringing. I’d just been too enamored to notice.

As the omnibus turned the corner of North 9th onto Spring Garden, I thought of the ancient proverb: scratch me once, shame on you; scratch me twice, shame on me. I would not be scarred by Midnight again. The long four-horse carriage stopped at the curb near my paws.

“Afternoon, Miss Puss,” Mr. Coal said from the driver’s perch. His top hat swallowed his small head, and the size difference caused the hat to wobble when he spoke. “You’re looking well today. Catch any good mice lately?” I did not know Mr. Coal’s true name. Rather, I’d assigned it based on his route. He worked the black line, Mr. Goldenrod worked the yellowish line, Mr. Sky worked the blue line and so forth. Endearing myself to the city’s omnibus drivers had been easy; a plaintive mew, a blink of my eyes, and they were mine, present company included. “Mind your step,” he said, working the door lever.

I boarded the horse-bus and walked between a preponderance of legs, looking for a seat. After realizing the joys of transportation last autumn, I became a public transit devotee. Yes, yes, the cobblestones rattled a body, tail to teeth. But, oh, the convenience! The journey to Rittenhouse by paw would have taken until sundown, and I had neither the patience nor the stamina to see it through. I found a seat next to a bespectacled woman with a pheasant plume on her bonnet. The slender brown feathers fluttered in the open window behind her as the carriage lurched forward. Despite the gaiety of her hat, however, the woman’s face had all the charm of a pitted prune.

She leaned out of the window and shouted to Mr. Coal, “Driver, why does the cat ride free? I demand to know, where’s her  dime?”

“I asked her for fare once, missus.” Mr. Coal’s voice floated in through the window. “She tried to carve me like a Sunday ham. But you go right ahead and get the money from her. I’d be much obliged.”

“Dear me,” the woman muttered. She rose and took a new seat, squeezing between two gentlemen in the rear of the coach. This suited me, and I settled into the rhythm of the horses’ steps. By and by, their cadence calmed me, lessening my need for blood. I would engage Midnight in a battle of wits, not claws, I decided. It took two transfers to reach my destination, but I made it to Rittenhouse near teatime.

I yowled to be let off and disembarked, taking in the familiar smell of the place. The odor of limestone and new construction prompted memories, both good and bad. I could not say I missed this neighborhood, not as I did Fairmount. I set out for Midnight’s imposing townhome, reaching it several blocks later. Climbing the steps the wide stone porch, I began a campaign of vocalizations until a small child answered my call. Her blonde curls sprang from her head like a bird’s nest. If memory served, this was Sarah, the miniature mistress of the house. In her arms, she carried a baby swaddled in a tapestry shawl with black fringe all around.

The girl knelt and patted me on the head, giving me a peek inside the bundle she carried. My first assessment had been incorrect. She held not a baby but a large grey kitten with a shiny ribbon tied round her neck. The tabby’s permanent teeth poked jaggedly through her gums, as if they hadn’t had an opportunity to grow in yet.

“You’re cute,” Sarah said to me. “Do you have a home? Would you like to come in? We’re playing house, and Lovie needs a sissy.” She bounced the kitten-baby in her arms.

Sissy ? Could she have met Mrs. Poe? I doubted it. “I am looking for Midnight,” I said to the kitten. “Does he still live here?”

“For the time being.”

“Then will you get him for me?”

“He is napping,” the kitten said with a touch of boredom.

“He is a cat,” I said. “He is always  napping, you supercilious scrap of fur. Now retrieve him at once, or I will reach into that blanket and—”

“Cattarina?” Midnight padded onto the porch. Sunlight glistened on his long black fur, lending him a regal air I found irresistible, even today. He still wore the blue ribbon round his neck, the one I remembered from our last visit, but it had frayed at the edges.

“Oh,” Sarah said, “she’s come for you,  handsome boy.” She leapt to her feet and sang, “Midnight’s got a sweetheart. Midnight’s got a sweetheart.” She skipped into the house with her kitten-baby. As the door swung shut, the grey fur ball gave me a direct stare, ears tipped sideways. What insolence.

“A matched pair,” I said to Midnight. “Good riddance.”

“Sarah used to dote on me, until Lovie showed up,” he said to me. “But enough about them. Let’s talk about you and where you’ve been the last six moons.” He sat on his hindquarters and puffed his chest fur, displaying the white patch over his breastbone—the most glaring difference between him and the murdered cat. “I tried to visit you last winter, but your pal at Eastern State Penitentiary—”

“Big Blue?”

“Yes, that’s him. He couldn’t say where you’d gone.”

I turned my nose to the sky. “You kept busy with other mollies, I am certain.”

“None like you, Cattarina.”

I paused to consider my strategy, settling on Circle and Pounce. “Perhaps my charm comes from a feral upbringing.”


“You and I are different, aren’t we, Midnight? You have never known the hardships of street life. I, on the other hand, know them too well.” I circled him, treading with slow, soft steps.

“Well…yes. But don’t feel bad. Not everyone is fed from a silver spoon at birth.”

“And what, pray tell, came on your silver spoon?”

“Oh, you know…the usual.”

“Minced lamb? Creamed tuna? Bacon drippings?” I circled tighter.

“Of course.”

“Ha!” I spat. “Lie upon lie upon lie!”

“What are you talking about?”

I faced him, hackles raised. “Why didn’t you tell me you were born a stray, Midnight? Or should I call you Crow?”

His pale eyes shone bright, twin moons against his dark fur. “H-how did you find out?”

“Silas and Samuel, my new neighbors.” I walked to the edge of the stoop and wrapped my tail around me. “I am sure you are acquainted with their caretaker, Mr. Eakins.”

“Yes, I know Mr. Eakins. If not for him, I would probably be dead by now.”

Like the cat in the tree. I dismissed the thought. “Then why did you hide the truth, particularly when we share the same heritage? To humiliate me?”

“What? No! To impress you.” He joined me on the top stair. “There have  been other mollies, Cattarina, but none with your…fire.”

“I do  have fire, don’t I?” I unwrapped my tail and cast it lazily upon the steps.

“Yes,” he said. “Enough to burn down the whole of Philadelphia.”

“And my ears. Do you like them? I think they are my best feature.”

“They are, without a doubt, your best feature.”

We brushed cheeks. All was forgiven.

“So you came all the way to Rittenhouse to catch me in a lie?” Midnight said. “I’m flattered.”

“No, of course not,” I countered. Many untruths had been told this afternoon; I did not mind adding to their number. “My purpose lies with another stray, hanged this very morning near Green Street. To find the tom’s executioner, I must learn his identity. So I am speaking to as many of our kind as possible in the hope that someone knows something. He looked a little like you but all black. On the small, scrawny side with a single orange eye. I shan’t tell you about the other eye.”

Midnight swallowed. “When you say orange, do you mean pumpkin or copper?”

“I don’t see what difference—”


“Very well, copper-ish .”

“If it’s who I think it is, the cat’s name is Snip. I hadn’t thought about him in…” He stared at a passing wagon filled with anthracite. “Well, it’s been ages. We met during our stay with Mr. Eakins. The old man placed me in a home first, and I never thought about him or that old life until today.” He sighed. “Funny little tom. Always worked for the laugh. He ran loops around the Coon Cats. Loved to spill their water dish and watch them play in the mess. He was quite  the entertainer.” Midnight faced me, his eyes narrowed. “I hope you find who killed him, Cattarina.”

“As do I.” I arose and paced the stoop. “The black cat— I mean, Snip’s death has proved most discomforting to Sissy, the mistress of Poe House. And my Eddy can scarcely think of anything else. I am hunting for them, you see, as well as Snip.”

“Now who’s the liar, Cattarina?” Midnight said. “I see the excitement in your tail.”

I looked back at the aforementioned item and found it sticking straight in the air. I lowered it, dusting the limestone. “Very well. It is  exhilarating to hunt for big game. But my family is no less the reason. Nor is retribution for a fallen brother.”

“Maybe I can help,” he said. “When you called on your neighbors, Silas and Samuel, did you happen to see a large leather-bound book in their home?”

“The cookery book?”

Midnight cocked his head.

“Never mind. I know of it.”

“Midnight!” Sarah screeched from the front hall. “Let’s play hopscotch!” The sound of her voice flattened Midnight’s ears. It had a similar effect on me, driving me back to the steps.

“Mr. Eakins scribbles things inside it,” he said quickly.

“That’s what humans do,” I said. “It’s how they communicate. Though I cannot read the marks, they are of great importance to Eddy.”

“It’s possible Mr. Eakins wrote about Snip’s new owners in the book.” The door opened, banging against the inside wall. Sarah snatched Midnight under the ribcage, his back legs dangling. “Find Snip’s entry, and find your answers,” he wheezed. “Charmed to see you, Cattarina. Do come ag—”

The door slammed, cutting our conversation short. Fiddlesticks. I longed to heed his advice, except the memory of this morning’s capture troubled me. Then I had to overcome the small problem of my illiteracy, at least in the ways of human writing. Even if I located the book, its contents would be indecipherable. I arched my back, releasing the crick in my spine, and left for the omnibus stop.

The carriage trip home gave me an opportunity to reflect on Midnight’s advice, enough so that when I reached Spring Garden, I’d talked myself into visiting Mr. Eakins. Heading north, I reached the Butcher’s dwelling and climbed to his kitchen windowsill. I peered through the glass. The old man sat at the dining table, charcoal twig in hand, doodling in his leather-bound cat- pendium. Dash it all. Before I could snoop for clues, Mr. Eakins would have to set his drawing aside, a difficult task given the allure of the feline form. I watched him a while longer, fascinated by the movement of his hand on the paper. Eddy usually frowned as he worked; I think it helped him. But Mr. Eakins smiled—a fool’s grin, toothy and without reason—as he sketched. The task consumed him such that the folly of his Coon Cats passed unnoticed.

Behind him, Silas and Samuel crept to the sideboard where they plundered a near-empty soup pot. The brothers took turns, each allowing the other a few licks of broth. It was a polite affair until Silas—in a fit of gluttony—butted Samuel out of the way, jumped into the vessel, and upended himself by accident. His back legs punched the air as he tried to extract himself from the stew he’d gotten himself into. Stew.  I twitched my whiskers, pleased with the pun. Samuel elected to escape trouble and dashed into the parlor out of view.

Mr. Eakins laid down his twig and closed his book. When he rose to help Silas, he brushed the tablecloth with his leg, revealing the cage hidden beneath it. I could not be an inmate of parrot prison again! Terrified, I leapt to the ground and ran straight home. There had to be another way to help Snip.

For Sale: One Muse

“THAT IS NO WAY to hammer a nail,” Muddy said. She stood under the western eave, surveying her son-in-law’s handiwork. Eddy, meanwhile, had removed one of his shoes and was using it to chastise the threshold. He brought it down repeatedly on the board, much to Muddy’s consternation. “You’ll never fix it,” she said.

I approached them, fresh from Mr. Eakins’s house, to observe the undertaking.

“I will  fix it,” Eddy said. “You will see.” He raised his shoe again, laces swaying, and smacked a protruding nail head. Everyone in Poe House had either tripped over the errant barb or snagged clothing on it since moving here this spring. Though physical labor disagreed with my companion, he persisted in a manner most enthusiastic. Sweat formed on his brow, and his hair flopped forward into his eyes. Smack! Smack!  With every blow of his shoe, he grunted.

“I told you,” Muddy said. “It will never work. You need something harder.”

“Your head, perhaps,” Eddy muttered under his breath. He struck the nail again.

“A shoe is no substitute for a hammer,” she said.

“We don’t have  a hammer, Mother,” Sissy called from the open kitchen door. “And the Poyners aren’t home, so we can’t borrow one from them.”

“Then tell your husband to buy one.” Muddy crossed her arms over her stomach and addressed Eddy. “I’m sure the Irishman deals on credit.” She turned and disappeared into the house.

Eddy stood and slipped his foot into his shoe. “Catters, old girl, why don’t we visit Fitz together?” He reached to stroke my back, releasing a puff of fur. “Muddy won’t let up until the nail is fixed. What’s more, ‘The Black Cat’ isn’t coming along like I’d hoped. I think fresh air and a trip to the store would help with both. But we’d better hurry. He’s closing soon.”

We journeyed down Minerva, the westward sun on our faces. As we walked, I recalled the day’s events: a murder, a catnapping, a romantic rekindling. Why, I’d had enough adventure to last the summer! I glanced at Eddy, his dark silhouette a comfort. The life he provided was thrilling enough; did I need to seek diversion elsewhere? No, in this happy moment, I was content to leave the affairs of the black cat to the black cat himself.

The feeling lasted until we reached the sassafras tree.

Snip’s body had long since been removed, yet sorrow marred the courtyard, thickening the air like chowder. I pictured the little tom, running circles around Silas and Samuel, working, as Midnight said, for the laugh. I swished my tail. I could not overlook his murder now that I’d come to know him. But I needed to find a way to help that didn’t involve Mr. Eakins.

Eddy entered Fitzgerald Hardware with a spry hop. Humans were a pitiable species, but I envied their dull senses at times like these. I stepped inside the narrow store, pausing behind my friend. Glass cases stocked with an assortment of nails, metal fittings, and hinges lined the space. Atop the cabinetry, more items had been arranged: lanterns, tin funnels, boxes of gunpowder, downspouts, cast iron spiders…almost too much to behold. We found Mr. Fitzgerald in the back, dusting a row of pot-bellied stoves. The floorboards creaked, announcing our arrival.

“Afternoon, Mr. Poe.” Mr. Fitzgerald laid down his duster and winked at me. “If you’ve come for the craic  about the cat, sir, I don’t know a thing about it.”

My ear flicked at the mention of cat .

“No, Mr. Fitzgerald, this call is strictly business.” Eddy clasped his hands behind his back. “I’m in need of a hammer. Do you carry

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“I have claw, mallet, sledge, tinner’s… What kind are you looking for?”

“The kind that punishes nails.”

“I have just the one.” The man stepped behind a long glass case and pointed to a row of tools inside. I joined the men, hopping to the counter to peruse the objects below me. I was no expert, but they looked better at pounding nails than Eddy’s shoe. The men spoke at length, exhausting the topics of hammers  and hardheaded women . Since I did not think Mr. Fitzgerald sold the second, I decided the implements in the case must be the first. I had no interest in either. My attention drifted, settling on an attractive box of twine balls at the end of the counter.

And then I saw it.

The now-familiar rope hung on a peg near the pot-bellied stoves. I traversed the cabinetry and studied the cord’s composition: brown and tan jute, the former dyed with a bitter solution that smelled of walnuts, the latter left au natural.  Great Cat Above, I’d located the source of the murder weapon! I narrowed my eyes at Mr. Fitzgerald and watched him share a joke of some sort with Eddy. The two men laughed. It baffled me that a human of gentle demeanor could commit such a cruelty. But Mr. Fitzgerald, indeed, had been the one to kill the black cat. I yowled to catch Eddy’s attention.

“We will leave soon, Catters,” he said. He gave the shopkeeper a somber look. “Now about your store credit…”

Mr. Fitzgerald had already killed one cat this morning, and I, for one, didn’t want to be the second. So I nudged the box of twine balls from the counter to accelerate my plot. They bounced and rolled along the floor, coming to rest beneath the pot-bellied stoves. The men stopped speaking and looked at me. Splendid.

“Catters?” Eddy said. “What on earth are you doing?”

I knocked a tin of thingamabobs to the floor. One needed a glossary just to shop here.


When both men approached, I leapt to the rope to draw notice. Naturally I brought it down on top of myself. Rationation is not without peril. I poked through the heap of loops and meowed for Eddy. He would recognize this as the same material from which the killer had made this morning’s noose, and Mr. Fitzgerald would be exposed as a torturer and a fiend. The neighbors might turn against him, but this mattered less than the truth. Three cheers for me, the greatest cat in all of—

“Cattarina, stop this tomfoolery at once!” Eddy said.

Mr. Fitzgerald stood behind Eddy and peered over his shoulder. “Well, I’ll be graveled. Think she’s chasing a mouse?”

“I think she’s chasing her sanity,” Eddy said.

I sank my teeth into the jute and held fast to the clue. To quote the famous philosopher, Cato, “We are twice armed when we bite in faith.” I had just become a formidable opponent.

Eddy tried tugging the line from my jaws. Then he pulled me around the floor like a child’s toy—a wooden cat on a string. When he paused to rethink this strategy, I doubled my efforts, tangling and winding into the coil until I’d knotted myself to the bitter end. With enough tortitude, any problem could be solved, I reasoned. Soon, Eddy would appreciate the significance of the rope, and I could let go of the blasted thing. I hoped it happened before dinner.

“Well, that is that, I’m afraid. Good day, Mr. Fitzgerald.” Eddy placed the hammer in his pocket and dragged me toward the door, my teeth still grasping the clue. To my horror, my fur cleaned a path on the dusty floor behind us. Still I did not let go.

“Wait! Mr. Poe!” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “Don’t mean to start a chafe, but I can’t let you to leave without paying for that item.”

Eddy paused near the entrance. “I have already purchased this hammer on credit. Perhaps we can make a similar arrangement for the rope?”

“We have a limit, and you’ve reached it.”

Eddy scowled at me, his cheeks red. “Then would you like to buy a cat?”

The shopkeeper eyed me. “At the moment, no.”

“A barter, then.” He took a deep breath. “The hammer for the rope.”

“That I can do, Mr. Poe,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “That I can do.”

Eddy left the hardware store, dragging me belly up in the dirt behind him. At least we were no longer in the company of a murderer. Tabitha and Abner Arnold watched us from the doorway of the shoemaker shop next door. Abner appeared to have recovered from his trip to Jolley Spirits and stood a little straighter. Tabitha, meanwhile, hadn’t changed a whit. She scowled at us, unamused by our conduct. Throughout the courtyard, I wished for street. When we reached Franklin, I wished for soft earth. Cobblestones are for paws, not backs. The entire trip home, Eddy did not speak to me. And he certainly  did not speak to the neighbors, try as they might to engage him.

“You’ve got an odd anchor, Poe!” Mr. Cook shouted from his front stoop. “It’s got teeth and tail!”

Mrs. Cook stuck her head out of an upstairs window and pointed. “Look! He’s caught a cat fish on his line. I know what Mrs. Clemm is cooking for dinner!”

Their jeers held no meaning. I had a job to do, and nothing would stand between me and my quarry, not even my pride. Just the same, I hoped I wouldn’t encounter the tabbies, George and Margaret, or the Coon Cats, Samuel and Silas. Vanity aside, I still prized my dignity.

Eddy continued in silence, stopping every few houses to see if I’d let go of the rope. But he never once looked—really looked— at the object between his fingers. With each passing stone that scraped my back, my course grew more certain. Midnight was right. To help Snip and protect the cats of Philadelphia from Mr. Fitzgerald, I had to steal Mr. Eakins’s book.

Buried Secrets

JUST AS I LICKED the last twig from my tail, Muddy served dinner. Unfortunately, my harrowing drag was for naught. Nothing came of these heroics, save for a bruise in a very delicate place; my bottom had polished every cobblestone on Franklin. In the absence of a hammer, Eddy pressed a candle stub onto the nail head, preventing Sissy or Muddy from tearing their skirt again. But what skills he possessed in shirking handiwork, he lacked in hunting. To snare Mr. Fitzgerald required the cunning of a cat, nay, a tortoiseshell  cat.

I pondered the complexities of the crime during the evening meal. I’d detected no lavender or citrus anywhere in Mr. Fitzgerald’s shop, and I remembered smelling it on the noose this morning. Further, what possible reason could he have for killing Snip? And had he been Snip’s owner? Lastly, I judged him a fair human. I have been mistaken or misguided on occasion, even ill advised, but I have never been wrong. Doubt over his role in the murder abounded. I prayed Mr. Eakins’s book would provide answers.

Once I’d downed Muddy’s feeble offering of chicken broth, I proceeded to Green Street, stopping first at the Beal residence for help. The grey tom and orange molly napped on the stoop, warming themselves in the dwindling sun. I thanked the Great Cat Above for the long stretch of summer daylight. It made my investigation that much easier, and quite an investigation it had been. I’d done more today than I had all spring. I climbed the terraced steps and chanced upon a crockery bowl of water. I took a sip of the cool liquid, thinking the Quaker cats would not mind.

George lifted his head, one eye still closed. “Cattarina?” He nudged Margaret. She awoke with a start and sprang to her feet.

“Y-you’re alive,” she said to me. “But how? Every cat tongue on Green Street is a-wag. They’re saying the Butcher got his hands on you.”

“He did,” I said. “It was quite an ordeal.” I licked the water from my lips.

George sniffed me. “And you’re not dead?”

I shifted to my hindquarters, minding the bruise. “You should be asking about the Butcher.”

“The way you talk!” Margaret said.

“Were you terribly frightened?” George asked. “How did you escape his sausage grinder? Skeletons. Were there cat skeletons in the home?” He backed into the water bowl, spilling it. “Do tell us, Cattarina! Do tell us!”

“You misunderstand Mr. Eakins,” I said.

“Who is Mr. Eakins?” George shook the water from his paws and licked them.

“The Butcher. Please keep up.” I flicked the end of my tail. “From what Silas and Sam— I mean, the Water Giants, tell me, he is a kindly old man who rescues homeless cats. Though he may  have a small flea problem.”

Margaret’s eyes grew wide. “You met the Water Giants?”

“They are not dead, either,” I added. “You may meet them yourself.”

George and Margaret sneezed, one after another—a clear rejection of my proposal.

“I assure you, I am serious. In fact, I would like you to accompany me to the Butcher’s home.” I rose to all paws, keeping my tail low. “He is in possession of a clue, and I need your help obtaining it.”

“A clue?” Margaret asked. “What is a clue?”

I told them the story of Snip, the book, and Mr. Fitzgerald. I’d even come up with a plan on the way over, which I explained to them now. I softened the danger by calling it a game of cat and mouse with unorthodox rules. This seemed to calm George a bit, for he relaxed his ears toward the end of my speech.

“We don’t condone stealing,” he said once I’d finished. “Taking the book would be against our code. Mr. Beal would be unhappy if we—”

“Don’t think of it as stealing,” I said. “Think of it helping a fallen…friend .”

Margaret blinked. “Very well. We will help you. But once you enter the Butcher’s home, you’re on your own.”


For all the wailing, I would’ve thought George at death’s door. He lay on the walkway leading to Mr. Eakins’s home, legs kicking in spasm. When I explained he would be the mouse , not the cat, in our charade, he took some convincing. But I am nothing if not persuasive. I crouched in the holly bushes next door and waited for the game to begin.

“What do you think of my performance?” George asked me.

“Can you cry louder?” I asked. “The Butcher is old and does not hear so well, I imagine.”

George obliged, shrieking at full capacity. Another cat down the block screeched in reply. Every performance needed an audience, I supposed. In a fashion, the caterwaul lured Mr. Eakins outside, parrot cage in tow. “Heeeere kitty, kitty. I’ll fix you up.”

“Run, George, run!” I shouted.

George needed no prompting. He leapt to his feet and disappeared from the garden like a puff of smoke. Mr. Eakins gave chase, but the tom was in no danger of being caught, not without aid of a net and perhaps a horse and driver. When George reached the street, he signaled Margaret. She streaked across the old man’s path, and the two tabbies ran ziggety-zag, luring Mr. Eakins down Green Street and away from his home.

I slipped inside Mr. Eakins’s front hall and headed for the kitchen. Having been a “guest” this morning, I navigated the rooms with ease, finding no Coon Cats. The cat -pendium lay on the tabletop, waiting for my perusal. I climbed topside and pushed the book open to search for Snip’s entry. Spotted cats, striped cats, black cats— I paused on Midnight’s page. Mr. Eakins had captured his likeness quite well. I continued flipping until I reached Snip’s page. The black cat stared back at me with both good eyes. I’d been right about him losing one after his rescue. Had Mr. Fitzgerald taken it? I studied the marks beneath Snip’s sketch and wondered if they told of his new owner and street address. I switched my tail. This I would leave to Eddy, my man of letters.

I tried to lift the volume with my teeth. It dropped to the floor with a weighty thud. Fiddlesticks.

A thump and a crash rang out on the second floor. The Brothers Coon?

I tried nudging my prize from the kitchen to the parlor. I gave up when my nose hit the raised threshold between rooms. Too many cobblestones lay between here and home to continue in this manner. I knew this firstpaw or rather, firstbottom . I swiveled my ears and caught the sound of footfall upon the stair—Silas and Samuel, without a doubt. I opened the book again to Snip’s entry. If I could not take the whole clue, I would take a piece of it. Minding the precious black marks, I gnawed the page near the binding. Despite my swift action, Silas and Samuel entered and caught me with a mouthful of paper. I had been reduced to a common woodchuck.

“Don’t look now, brother,” Silas said to Samuel, “but Cattarina is back, and she is eating from the Book of Cats.”

“How very curious,” Samuel said. “Our Robert usually reads  from the Book of Cats. Doesn’t Mrs. Poe feed her?”

Silas twitched his whiskers. “One look at her stomach, and you’ll know the answer.”

I spat a mouthful of paper. “I do not have time for this!”

The Coon Cats stared at me.

“At this very instant, Snip’s killer runs free,” I said. “And Mr. Eakins’s Book of Cats may hold the scoundrel’s identity. I must, simply must  be allowed to take this page.”

“Snip’s killer?” Samuel cocked his head. “You mean he is dead?”

Silas grew quiet.

“That was the hanged cat I spoke of this morning,” I said. “You did not hear the gossip?”

“I told you,” Samuel said. “We stay inside much of the day. Locked doors. Locked windows. Mr. Eakins doesn’t let us wander like other cats. He talks about danger  and disease  and all sorts of bad things, most of which we don’t understand. But we know he means to keep us safe.”

“I thought you spoke in jest.” I had heard of indoor plants, indoor rugs, and indoor wicker. But indoor cats ? How barbaric. The beautiful Coons were no more than furniture. I prayed this new-fashioned practice would end with Mr. Eakins.

“Dear brother, our Robert was right!” Silas wailed. “It is  dangerous out there!” Samuel tried to comfort him with a sideways rub. Silas pushed him away. “I wish we had never found that hole in the roof. ‘Sneak outside at night,’ you said. ‘He’ll never catch us,’ you said. We could’ve been killed, just like Snip!” He left the room, dragging his tail behind him.

“Forgive my brother,” Samuel said. “He has a nervous condition.”

“I agree with Silas,” I said. “The world is a dangerous place. But Snip’s human killed him, not illness or accident. Say, do you happen to know the new owner’s name? This will save me much work as I am on his trail.”

“I’m afraid not. We meet some of the humans Robert works with, but not all.” He glanced at the book. “Taking this page will help you find Snip’s owner?”

“Yes.” I considered explaining the black marks and what they might mean but decided against it. In the end, the simplest answer won out. Samuel helped me tear Snip’s page from the book and walked me to the door. Whether or not the paper contained Mr. Fitzgerald’s information remained to be seen.

“Good luck with your hunt, Cattarina,” he said. “If there’s anything else we can do, let us know. We are able to come and go by a hole in the roof. Silas will take some coaxing, but we’ll be there if you need us.” He watched Mr. Eakins huff and puff toward us down the street, his cage empty. “Snip was a good friend. I hope you find his murderer.”

I bade him farewell and left with Snip’s information, escaping past Mr. Eakins by the garden gate. The old man gasped at the torn page in my mouth, but George and Margaret had winded him, and he could not give chase. He scratched his ribs and yelled, “You are much too curious for your own good, Cattarina! Some secrets should stay buried!” This sounded like a warning.

Near the corner of North Seventh, I detected the stench of rotting flesh. I followed it all the way to Poe House and around to our kitchen garden where someone had committed the unconscionable.

A Sinister Scent

EDDY KNELT NEAR THE morning glory vines, a heap of fresh earth by his side. I left the torn page by the back door and crept through the vegetable patch with more than a little trepidation. I hoped the man hadn’t done what I suspected he had. I ducked under the cucumber trellis, advancing unnoticed. Sweet horror! Snip’s exhumed body lay on the ground near Eddy’s feet. Carrion insects speckled the tom’s fur, causing the carcass to writhe with activity. My companion leaned closer to compare the rope in his hand—Mr. Fitzgerald’s rope—to the one around Snip’s neck.

“It is a match,” he whispered to himself. “A perfect  match.” His shirt reeked of spirits, different from the ones he’d drunk at Jolley’s this afternoon, and his cravat dangled round his neck. “A neighbor is responsible, I am certain. But what perverse imp moved this person to kill Heaven’s finest?” He tugged his hair, lost in thought, then said: “To do wrong for wrong’s sake only. To give in to the soul’s unfathomable longing to vex itself.”

Judging from his ink-smeared cheek, he’d abandoned a writing project for this grim undertaking , so to speak. My hunt had stoked his imagination, yet a narrow path lay between satisfying my own desires and satisfying his. The job of muse is a delicate one. I found that out during my Glass Eye Killer caper. Introduce too much inspiration too soon, and I risked losing my charge down a drunken, rambling trail from which he might never return.

I approached him.

“Catters?” Eddy said. “Have you come for another bite?” He dangled the rope in front of me, tossing it aside when I took no interest. “What else do you know, you crafty thing? I suspect much.” He appraised me with what I took for admiration. “I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.”

I considered Snip’s entry and wondered if it would take Eddy too far from his story, to a place beyond my reach. I did not have long to think. The back door opened, and Sissy entered the garden with an easy, elegant air. She opened her lips to speak but stopped when she realized what he’d done. Even her fever-bright cheeks could not sustain color with this new discovery. Legs unsteady, she took a single step toward her husband. “Edgar? What’s this?”

“Sissy?” Still kneeling, Eddy turned and spread his arms, trying to hide the cat carcass. “I-I thought you were inside mending. Or knitting. Or mending your knitting.”

I trotted to her and rubbed the length of her skirt, delighting in the whishhh  of fabric.

“And I  thought you were writing,” she said to him. She leaned to touch my head. “We both changed our minds, it seems. Though what yours concocted is disturbing, to say the least. Tell me, dear, have you been drinking?”

“I am as straight as judges.” He leaned a little to the left.

“I see.” She put her hands on her hips. “Why have you dug up the cat?”

“To check on him, of course.” Eddy offered a queasy smile. “Still dead.”

Sissy took another step, alighting on Snip’s page by accident. She bent and retrieved it, giving the entry a quick glance. The meaning of the words played across her face, lifting the corner of her mouth. I had not stolen the clue in vain. When she finished reading, she looked at me the way Eddy had, with approval.

“What have you got?” Eddy asked her.

“Nothing. An old market list. Mother must have lost it.” She folded the page and stuck it down her dress front. I thought it an odd place for a carryall, but humans never ceased to surprise me. “Why don’t I leave you to…whatever you were doing. I have an errand to run.”

“An errand? At this hour? It must be six o’clock.” Eddy rose and dusted the dirt from his pants.

“It’s seven.” Sissy snapped her fingers, and I trailed her out of the front garden. “I still have daylight and will only be a block away. Do not worry.” She latched the gate behind us. “Mother is polishing the furniture, so you needn’t disturb her with my comings and goings. And for heaven’s sake, Edgar Poe, wash your hands!”


To my surprise, Sissy and I headed down Green Street instead of toward Mr. Fitzgerald’s shop. She’d left without her bonnet and squinted into the setting sun. “Cattarina, between this crime and the ones last fall, you’re turning into a four-footed constable,” she said to me. “I know you pilfered that page from Mr. Eakins’s book. I can tell by the teeth marks.” She removed the slip of paper from her bosom and showed me its frayed edge. “It was beyond clever of you to bring it home. I’m impressed.” She replaced the item and gave me a worried smile. “I want to know who took the poor tom’s life, too. It’s peculiar, but I’ve taken an interest in him.”

Unlike the brightly clad ladies of Fairmount, Quaker women dressed in dull browns, free of adornment—no ribbons, no velvet flowers, no dizzying patterns. The gentlemen sported equally somber attire. Sissy spoke to a few them, including Mr. Beal, George and Margaret’s companion, and a lady she called Mrs. West, which struck me as odd since the woman traveled east. But what these Quakers lacked in fashion sense, they more than made up for in culinary acumen. Delicious smells drifted from the dwellings on either side: roasted chicken, broiled pork, stewed beef. I battled my stomach, fending off hunger pangs. Muddy’s broth had done little to appease me.

We crossed over Franklin and arrived at the cottage with the rooster weathervane, the one I’d encountered this morning. An entire lifetime had passed since the murder, or so it seemed. “We should knock, shouldn’t we?” Sissy said to me. She touched the brass knocker, wiped her fingers on her bodice, and tried again.

Tabitha Arnold answered the door. Perhaps she had not been taught to smile as a child. “Mrs. Poe?” she said. “Store’s closed, but I can fit you for shoes if you like. Come through to the workshop.” From our interactions on the street, she’d proved unlikeable. But I didn’t take her for a killer. And a man’s scent graced the murder weapon, not a woman’s. Mr.  Arnold, however, had just become my chief suspect.

Sissy retreated to the walkway, widening the gap between them. “No, no. I’ve come to…” She touched her throat. “I’ve come to ask you about the black cat this morning.”

I trilled in agreement. Yes, black cat . We needed answers, and we needed them now.

Mrs. Arnold flew at Sissy and grabbed her by the arms. “It was so awful! Poor Pluto! Why did he have to hang him like he did?” She looked skyward and appealed to forces unknown. “Why? Why did this have to happen?”

I noted her shoes. They held too many scuffmarks to count, and tarnish flecked the buckles. An old proverb came to mind, something about the mouser’s kittens going hungry. Humans must’ve had a similar saying about shoemakers, and if so, it applied to Mrs. Arnold. I realized something else, too. While Green Street housed a preponderance of Quakers, the Arnolds did not seem to be of their ilk. I sniffed the hem of the woman’s dress—nothing of concern.

Sissy extracted herself from the woman’s grasp. “So it’s true. You are  the hanged cat’s owner.”

“Yes. We’d adopted him from Mr. Eakins a week ago, maybe a little longer. I scarcely think anyone knew we had him except the dentist fellow. Why should I admit this and have people think ill of me? I have a business to run, you know.” Mrs. Arnold dabbed her nose with a tattered handkerchief she pulled from her sleeve. “How did you  find out? Did Mr. Eakins tell you?”

Sissy glanced at me. “No, there’s a constable involved.”


“No.” Sissy smiled demurely. “Constable Claw.”

My ears pricked at the skittering of tiny feet. I sniffed the air. A mouse lived in the Arnold residence. They should’ve taken more care with their cat.

“You said ‘he’ a moment ago,” Sissy said. “‘Why did he  have to hang him like he did?’ To whom were you referring?”

“Mr. Fitzgerald, of course. The only thing he hates more than Englishmen are cats.” She tucked her handkerchief away, leaving a lace corner poking from her sleeve. “It all started with the tree in the courtyard. I’ve wanted to chop it down for ages. No one can see my shop with all that greenery, and it’s hurting my business. But he didn’t want to, the fool. Now he’s gone and hung Pluto from one of the limbs…” Her bottom lip trembled. “Warn me away!” She sobbed into Sissy’s shoulder.

Sissy patted her back. “There, there. We gave Pluto a Christian burial.” She leaned around the woman and glanced through the open door. “Where is Abner? Is he gone?”

“Having a Jolley good time, I’m sure.” She straightened and wiped her face.

Sissy sighed. “If I’ve caught your meaning, Mrs. Arnold, we have a similar problem.”

“I’m going to a meeting tomorrow—the Sons of Temperance. Why don’t you join me?”

The women blathered on about teetotaling , a subject unfamiliar, leaving me to my work. I padded up the walkway and into the house, thinking to flush out my quarry. One sniff of Mr. Arnold or his possessions, and I would have the truth. I paused in the front hall to catch what scents I could.

Tiny footsteps to my left.

I crouched and peered beneath the entryway bench. A pair of mice scurried near the baseboard. Dash it all, I could not resist. I raked under the wooden seat, missing them by a whisker. The mice slipped into the adjoining parlor with a squee, squee, squee!  I gave chase, bounding over an armchair and darting across the room to meet them at the kitchen threshold. But the vermin had the advantage of familiarity. They headed for a hole they’d gnawed in the wall and escaped to the other side. I sprinted into the kitchen after them, ziggety-zagging around a pie cupboard, a wash pail and mop, a dining chair. During my pursuit, I focused on the sights, sounds, and smells of my prey, ignoring all else. I could not have guessed the trouble this single-minded attention would soon cause.

The mice slipped through the cracked cellar door and disappeared into the dark. I charged through the portal and dashed down the cellar steps—a mistake of gigantic proportion, but one easily predicted by Sir Isaac Kitten. The door banged back on its hinges and slammed shut, causing an equal and opposite reaction to my action. A student of physics, I should have known better. I tried yowling for Sissy, but her human hearing proved too meager.

I was trapped.

Seeking an open window or warped door, I traveled deep into the earthen chamber. My history with cellars is a storied one, full of grisly exploits. This made it all the more difficult to proceed. Yet I had no choice. When I reached the bottom step, I paused and smelled for new, fresh air, thinking to follow it to freedom. My stomach tightened at the sinister trace of lavender and citrus.

Judgment Day

THE COLOGNE DISSIPATED SOON after its discovery. This meant I had stumbled upon the killer’s smell and not the killer himself. This did little to assuage my fear, for the realization had occurred in his blasted cellar. I lost track of time without the sun, so I marked its passage with hunger pangs, abandoning this strategy when they struck with maddening frequency. Somewhere between starvation and death—why, oh, why hadn’t Muddy served something heartier for dinner?—footsteps marched overhead.

From the top stair, I peeked through a wide gap under the door that revealed the lowest portion of the kitchen. Light filled the room, indicating Mrs. Arnold had fired a lamp. I thought about meowing for help until a second pair of feet entered the room. The culprit, I presumed. Until he left for either the bed or the tavern, I was stuck.

“I saw Mrs. Poe in the street,” Mr. Arnold said. I recognized his voice at once. “It wouldn’t surprise me if she passed away this Christmas.” He hiccupped and laughed. “She looks positively used up.”

“Abner!” Mrs. Arnold said. “She may be married to a strange little man, but so am I. Now I’ve taken a liking to Virginia Poe, and I’ll not have you speak about her like that.”

He dashed a cup to the floor and strode toward her. “I’ll not have you speak about me  like that! Do you hear?”

“Please, Abner, I can’t take that again. Please .”

Silence. With only their shoes visible, the scene terrified me less than had I been with them. Even still, I feared for the woman.

“Don’t know what comes over me,” he muttered.

“Why don’t I make you some tea?” Mrs. Arnold said. Her voice flowed like tap water. “It’s just what you need after a trip to the tavern. Sit, dear. Sit. Are you hungry? Or did you eat at Mr. Jolley’s?”

Mr. Arnold heeded her advice and settled into the dining chair. “I ate already. A bowl of pepperpot.” He hadn’t bothered switching his shabby boots for slippers, and I found their condition distasteful, considering his occupation. He shuffled them, knocking dried mud to the floor. “How was business today?” he asked. “Slow?”

“Is it any wonder?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he snapped.

“The cat, Abner. The damned cat hanging from the damned tre

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“Forget Pluto. One less mouth to feed.” Mr. Arnold’s boots shifted sideways, as if he leaned a bit in his chair. I flinched when a small pocketknife clattered to the floorboards. Fingers reached to retrieve it, and the blade disappeared from view. In the presence of this weapon, I should have focused solely on the predicament at hand. Yet Eddy’s story occupied my thoughts. My companion had come close to understanding the killer and writing with true vision.

“I paid the landlord and the county tax collector this month. It took the last of our savings,” Mrs. Arnold said. “Won’t be long until we’re in the poor house, with or without our cat.” A cook stove burner grated against its metal fitting. The pop and crackle of a stoked fire filled the kitchen. A thin line of smoke drifted beneath the door, irritating my nose. I didn’t dare sneeze, not if I wanted to avoid the hangman’s loop. While I was at it, I fancied keeping both eyes.

“Our luck will turn around, Tabby,” he said. “It’s got to.”

“Yes, Abner, I’m sure it will.” A kettle lid rattled. The spicy sweet smell of loose tea permeated the room. “Why don’t you wait for me in the family room? I’ll bring your cup on a tray.”

Mr. Arnold staggered to his feet. “Tabby, I’m…I’m a different person sometimes. Especially when I’m not feeling well.”

“Go rest, dear. All is forgiven.”

He plodded from the room with uncertain steps, a gait I knew all too well. Soon the teakettle whistled, masking the sound of Mrs. Arnold’s weeping. It reminded me of Sissy’s, any given evening at Poe House.


That night, my appetite grew so severe that it deserted me, leaving a cramp in its place. During Mr. and Mrs. Arnold’s tea party, I crept downstairs to relieve myself. The lamplight beneath the door illuminated the cellar, giving me a sense of the space. Crates of onions and potatoes, a washboard, an old rocking horse—nothing edible. Someone had placed a basket of dirty linens near the bottom of the stairs, so I hopped in, left my offering, and pawed a dressing gown over the evidence. To no one’s surprise, least of all my own, the cologne on the clothing matched the scent on Snip’s noose. I had caught my man. Or rather, he’d caught me.

I returned to my post with a heavy heart. Eddy, Sissy, and Muddy wouldn’t miss me until morning. Even if they searched for me tonight, they wouldn’t know where to begin. Sissy might think to return here, but Mr. and Mrs. Arnold would tell her they hadn’t seen me. And in truth, they hadn’t.

Before retiring that evening, the woman of the house entered the kitchen and turned off the lamp, cloaking the kitchen and cellar in black. I would not spend the night in this place. Using the dark to my advantage, I jumped and rattled the doorknob.

“Hello?” she said. “Who’s there?”

I jumped and rattled it again.

Her steps grew louder.

I balanced on the edge of the step and waited for the woman to open the door. She leaned into the portal and queried the dark. “Who’s there?” she asked. With the speed of a grass snake, I slithered into the still-dark kitchen, brushing her leg by accident. She shrieked and sprang back from the cellar. “Pluto? Is that you?” she said. “It c-can’t be you. You’re dead. Unless you’ve come back to haunt me. Please tell me you haven’t.” I hid behind the wash pail, staying quiet. She finally cackled. “You’re losing your mind, Tabby, old girl. It was your dressing gown against your skin.”

The stairs creaked following Mrs. Arnold’s departure as she climbed to what I guessed was her bedchamber. After an interval, when the couple surely slumbered, I searched the bottom floor for an escape route. It was no use. The cobblers had laced their house tighter than a lady’s boot.

Loud snoring lured me to the second floor and to their sleeping quarter—a solitary room at the top of the stair. A low, slanted ceiling and plastered timber walls confined the area, giving it the feel of an attic. Because of its cramped size, the chamber held only a small cabinet, which Mrs. Arnold used as a side table, and a spindle post bed. The couple lay fast asleep, a patchwork quilt pulled to their chins. I paused at the threshold and studied the lit candle on the cabinet. Mrs. Arnold must have forgotten to snuff it out before falling asleep. The flame danced atop the white pillar, mesmerizing me. It dipped and swayed, drawn by a draft. A draft!

Above Mr. Arnold lay a partially open window, hidden behind a pair of tapestry curtains. With so little floor space, the couple had pushed the bedframe against the wall directly beneath it. The man could’ve used the draperies for a blanket had he so chosen. To escape, I needed to bypass the pair without waking them. I planned my trajectory, adjusting for dim lighting, unsure footing, and other variables. My course contained enough degrees and angles to make René Descattes proud: a hop to the side table, a leap to the headboard, a sliiiide to the tapestry curtains, and an elegant landing on the sill. There I would use my substantial frame to open the sash. Except my scheme did not include revenge.

I turned in a circle, hoping to change my mind. It did not work. I could not leave without giving Mr. Arnold a well-deserved lashing for Snip’s murder. So I analyzed anew, took a deep breath, and jumped to the side table…

…knocking over the candle.

I’d failed to account for the greatest variable: my lumbering physique. I watched helplessly as the flame ignited a bundle of mail. The blaze grew bigger, leaping onto Mrs. Arnold’s nightcap with enviable grace and setting her head aflame.

“Aaaaiiiyyyeee!” the woman screeched.

She swatted her nightcap and knocked it to the bed, catching the quilt on fire. The stench of singed hair filled the room. “Wake up! Wake up and help me, or we’ll lose the house and the store!” she shouted to Mr. Arnold. She shoved her husband, but he continued to snore. “Drunk old fool,” she said. “If you won’t fetch help, I will.” Then she leapt from the bed and fled the room, shutting the door behind her. She did not notice me.

Frantic to escape, I bounced off the headboard and landed on the sill, avoiding the flames. I’d no sooner alighted than the drunk  old fool  woke. Mr. Arnold sat forward and wiped the sweat from his brow, unaware of the campfire in his lap. “Tabby? Is it hot in here? Let’s open the window.” He reached for the sash and froze. “A cat! A cursed cat!” The blaze lit his face, giving it cruel angles. “What’s this? Have you sentenced me to hell, you minion of the devil?”

The fire ravaged the left curtain panel and climbed to the ceiling, consuming the timber with appetite. Since I had no desire to join Snip, I tried to squeeze through the window before roasting in this self-made oven. Mr. Arnold, however, had other plans. He threw back the quilt and smothered the bed flames before dragging me back to wring my neck. How I scratched and spit, fought and bit! Pickled by spirits, the old man shrugged off the prick of my teeth and the terrible heat suffocating us both. When smoke clouded my vision, I lashed out wildly, catching Mr. Arnold’s nightshirt or what I mistook for Mr. Arnold’s nightshirt. I’d hooked the unlit portion of curtain instead. I tried flexing my claws to remove them, but they’d become tangled in the tieback cord. That was when the rogue picked me up and threw me against the plaster wall, curtain cord and all.

“I will not stand for this judgment!” he screamed. “I will not! Do you hear me?”

I dove for the window, squeezing under the sash and falling—feet first, I should add—to the alley below. Aside from sizzled whiskers and a blackened tail, I had escaped relatively unharmed. Mr. Arnold was not so lucky. He fell from the window, nightshirt ablaze, and landed beside me with a skull-ringing thump.

A Wicked Impression

“GOOD MORNING, CATTARINA,” SISSY said. I flicked my ear in response. I’d crawled into bed with her last night after licking the soot from my fur. Too tired to knead the covers, I fell fast asleep until dawn. Luckily, my tail suffered no permanent damage. My back paws were not so fortunate. I discovered the seared pads on my walk home from the Arnold bonfire. “I asked Muddy to leave the kitchen window open for you last night,” she said. “I knew you’d come home late. Catting around with a handsome fellow, are we?” She lifted my chin and studied my face. “Why, Cattarina Poe, where are your whiskers?” She turned me over and examined me. “And your back paws are burnt, poor thing. What happened to you last night?”

Sissy left the bed. “Mother will make a salve. She is an excellent nursemaid, even if she dotes on her patients a trifle much.” She crossed to the wardrobe. Since destroying her town  dress yesterday, only her everyday  dress remained, along with an extra pair of stockings and white chemise. I think she looked fine without clothing. I also thought the Delaware should flow with milk and shad should grow on trees.

Pots clattered in the kitchen below. Muddy had risen before dawn, as she always did, to build a fire and make breakfast. I yawned and stretched, reveling in the warmth of the cotton-stuffed mattress. I was the only cat I knew with two jobs: muse by day, chest heater by night. Since his wife’s illness, Eddy had given up marital cohabitation so Muddy could nurse her daughter through nighttime spells. The old woman stayed in the adjoining bedroom and entered at the first cough. I did what I could to keep Sissy warm while she slept, but it was not enough; it would never be enough, and I carried this truth in my heart. Death is a natural process until it happens in one’s family, then it’s a tragedy.

Once Sissy twisted her hair into a coil, she carried me from the topmost floor, past Eddy’s chambers on the middle floor, to the bottom floor. We found Eddy at the kitchen table with tea and newspaper, sitting among the vestiges of breakfast. Muddy fussed with a kettle of water. Now that the black cat’s death had vanished into the past, life at Poe House had returned to normal. She set me in front of a bowl filled with scrambled eggs, and I gobbled the food without a good morning rub to Eddy’s leg. I possessed a hunger so severe that I finished before the dear girl took her chair. She sat next to Eddy and poured a cup of tea from the pot on the table. “Cattarina has lost her whiskers,” she said.

I disappeared beneath the kitchen table for my post-breakfast routine. Seated upon the straw rug, I started my usual preen. But I abandoned this activity when my whisker stubs pricked my paw. How I missed them. I brushed against Eddy’s pants and Sissy’s skirt instead, marking them with fur for the day.

Sissy continued, “What’s more, she’s burnt her paws.”

“How very curious.” Eddy peeked under the table at me, eyes narrowed. “The Arnolds’ house burned down last night.”

“How do you know? Is it in the paper? What happened?” The words left Sissy’s mouth in a tumble. “Do tell!”

I emerged from my hiding place to see Eddy tip a non-existent hat. “I sit before you, Mrs. Poe, a proud member of the bucket brigade. The engine company needed help, and the menfolk obliged. We saved the neighborhood.” He looked at Muddy. “What time was it? Around midnight?”

I stared at him. What did he know about my pal from Rittenhouse?

“Half-past,” Muddy said. “You didn’t come home until two.”

“Tabitha Arnold escaped unharmed,” he said. “Abner Arnold was not so fortunate.”

Abner Arnold ? I crept under the table again, dreading a talking-to from Eddy. Yes, I burnt down the neighbor’s house. No, I am not sorry. Now then, what is for lunch?  But he didn’t bother. I wondered if I’d paid the neighbors a favor by ousting the cobblers from Green Street. I’d certainly paid the cats a favor. I took the center of the room again and commenced with a stretching regimen.

Eddy tipped his cup and took the last sip. “They sent him to Almshouse last night, but I do not know how he fared.”

“What heroics! Why didn’t you wake me?” She dropped a sugar lump in her tea and stirred it. “I would have helped.”

“That’s exactly  why we didn’t wake you.” Muddy wiped her hands on her apron and joined them, pulling up a chair. “It would have been too taxing for you.”

“And to think I spoke to Mrs. Arnold yesterday,” Sissy said. “Hours before it happened.”

“Where, Virginia?” her mother asked. “At the market?”

“No,” Eddy said. “It was later in the day, wasn’t it, my love? Your mysterious seven o’clock errand?”

“Yes, I-I needed to speak to her about a pair of shoes.” She took the last piece of fried bread from the plate and slathered it with jam. “They were supposed to be a surprise for you, Eddy, but now you’ve gone and spoiled it.”

“Is that so?” He scooped me up to examine my paws. Dark circles rimmed his eyes, indicating a night of interrupted sleep. “Catters must have been near the fire last night. But why?”

“Constable Claw,” Sissy said under her breath.

Muddy cupped her hand around her ear. “What’s that?”

“Nothing, Mother, nothing.” She turned to her husband. “Cattarina followed me to Tabitha’s house and stayed behind. That’s the simplest explanation.” She smiled at him, but mirth did not crinkle the corners of her eyes. “Did you know Tabitha Arnold attends the Sons of Temperance meetings?”

Eddy ignored her query and rose to set me on the sideboard, his brow knitted.

I  didn’t know she attended,” Muddy said. She patted her daughter’s arm with a hand roughed by housework. “The Sons meet at Saint George’s Methodist, don’t they?”

I settled onto a lace doily while they prattled about teetotaling  again. One day, I should like to know its meaning. As the women talked, Eddy kept his back to them, focusing on me. He scratched the top of my head, paying close attention to my ears. I rewarded him with a purr. In this relaxed state, my thoughts wandered to yesterday. I had solved a crime, and the wrongdoer had received punishment, though to what extent I did not know. Death would have been fitting, considering Mr. Arnold’s transgression, but I would settle for disfigurement. Another triumph for Philadelphia’s favorite rationator.

“I learned another interesting tidbit from Tabitha,” Sissy said.

“What’s that?” Muddy asked. “That their shoes fall apart when you wear them?” She lifted her foot and showed off the split sole of her shoe.

“I learned they owned the black cat. And his name was Pluto.”

Eddy faced them. “That is  disturbing, but not altogether surprising. Did the old woman admit to killing the creature?”

“No, she blamed Mr. Fitzgerald. Something about a rivalry over a tree.” Sissy spooned eggs onto her plate from the serving platter. “Mother, will you make a salve for Cattarina? Her paws are in need of ointment.”

Muddy nodded. “I think I have the ingredients.”

“Well, I, too, discovered a tidbit,” Eddy said. He crossed his arms and leaned against the sideboard. “Whoever killed Pluto bought the rope from Mr. Fitzgerald’s hardware shop.”

“Or Mr. Fitzgerald took it from his own store,” Sissy offered.

“I know Fitz all to pieces,” Eddy said. “He is not a cat killer. Mr. Arnold is the more likely culprit.”

“What is this fascination with dead animals?” Muddy said. “It’s unnatural and unhealthy. Why can’t we discuss pleasanter things? I hear Mr. Crumley’s getting tossed in debtor’s prison for skipping rent. And Mrs. Porter’s husband left her for—” The whistle of the teakettle cut her off. “Oh, fiddle.” Heeding its call, she gathered every dish but Sissy’s and deposited the lot into the basin. Then she doused them with water from the kettle and commenced to washing, leaving husband and wife to converse in private.

“Speaking of the black cat, how is your eulogy coming?” Sissy asked Eddy.

“It is not.” He kissed his wife’s head. “What are your plans today, sweet Virginia?”

“Oh,” she said, “I will be mending. Or knitting. Or mending my knitting. Do not worry, husband.” She took a bite of egg.

“Well, try and rest.” He laid his hand on her shoulder. “I do not like your color this morning.”

I watched below the table. Sissy clutched a handful of skirt fabric in response to Eddy’s comment. As the household’s most astute observer, I learned my humans’ secrets without them even knowing they’d shared. No matter. I kept them all. She released the fabric and asked him, “What are your  plans?”

“Cattarina and I have business at Mr. Jolley’s.” He put his finger to his lips before she could object. “I will touch neither drop nor dram. I promise. When I return, I will know about the fire and Mr. Arnold’s current state. If I am lucky, I will also hear about the black cat, for his story vexes me greatly.” He whisked me into his arms and laid me over his shoulder. “Muddy! Catters and I will await your salve in the parlor.”


The tallow, lard, and beeswax Muddy applied to my paws smelled good enough to eat, but I resisted the salve, for it soothed my burns. It would also provide sustenance later, should the need arise. Blasted appetite. Eddy carried me to keep my tender paws off the ground, and we arrived at Jolley Spirits. As we entered the tavern, the shrunken old apple gave us a tsk-tsk . I noted a bandage on his arm, the arm I shredded yesterday. “Good morning, Mr. Poe. It’s a little early for drink, but I’m happy to oblige a customer and his money— I mean cat.” Mr. Jolley touched his wound and sneered at me. “As long as it stays far, far away from me. If it doesn’t, it will meet with my boot.”

“She will behave,” Eddy said. “You have my word.”

“What can I bring you?”

“No refreshment this morning, good sir. Just water.”

“Water?” Mr. Jolley grumbled. “You’ll be back later for something stronger, I trust?”

“Of course.”

This seemed to satisfy Mr. Jolley. He started to leave then thought better of it. “What’s that smell? It’s awful.” He curled his upper lip.

Eddy glanced at my paws and cleared his throat, his cheeks red. “I suspect it’s coming from your kitchen. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He ignored Mr. Jolley’s scowl and walked to the bar, setting me on the oaken surface. I waited for the ancient barkeep to hobble back with Eddy’s order. When he did, Mr. Jolley delivered a glass of water, not liquor, and I let him go with a warning glare.

“We must keep our wits about us, Catters,” Eddy said to me. “We’ve important work ahead.”

For most of the morning, we eavesdropped on the other patrons. Many instances I caught fire  and Abner Arnold  and even cat . These I had anticipated; humans love their gossip. But Eddy seemed to expect them, too, for he did not show interest until he heard supernatural . Upon the expression, my companion struck up conversation with the fellow who’d spoken it—a portly gentleman with ruddy cheeks and a diamond stickpin in his lapel. They shook hands and introduced themselves.

“Orson Pettigrew, dentist,” the man said to Eddy.

“Edgar Allan Poe, petrified of the dentist.”

Mr. Pettigrew laughed. “Ah, Mr. Poe! I read ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ in the Pioneer  last winter. Unnerving story. How did you think of it?”

“Yes, how did  I?” Eddy laid a hand on my back. “It’s a mystery.”

Mr. Jolley dispensed two glasses of whiskey to Mr. Pettigrew and withdrew to break up a heated discussion between two coalminers—something about westward expansion  and Oregon Trail . Mr. Pettigrew downed the first drink. “One for me,” he said. The other he poured into a flask pulled from his vest pocket. “And one for my patient. I’ve got an extraction in an hour.”

Eddy loosened his cravat with a crooked finger. “Mr. Pettigrew, I heard you tell another gentleman that supernatural elements caused the Arnold house fire. Why would you say that?”

Mr. Pettigrew elbowed Eddy. “Working on another story, eh?”

“A eulogy.”

“But the old codger survived, Mr. Poe.” Mr. Pettigrew took a swig from the flask. “Lost his hair and burnt himself, but he’s alive, by God.”

“It’s not for Abner Arnold. It’s for another man,” Eddy said. “Pluto…Katzenheimer. Black hair, green eyes, trim physique? I’m sure you’ve met him.”

Mr. Pettigrew scratched his head.

“Forgive me, but I am in a hurry. The supernatural?”

Mr. Pettigrew leaned into Eddy and lowered his voice. “It’s payback, Mr. Poe, for the cat.” He grinned, exposing several teeth trimmed with gold. “I heard about the hanging from a patient—horrible woman with bleeding gums. Elmira…? Well, it doesn’t matter. I wanted a peek as much as the next man. So I closed office yesterday afternoon and ran into Reverend Gerry on the way over. We got to talking.” He took another drink from the flask. “When he described the hanged cat, I knew it belonged to Tabitha and Abner Arnold. I’d seen the creature at their shop when I picked up my new boots.” He lifted his shoe, showing Eddy the peeling sole. “They’re less than two weeks old. I’ll never buy another pair from those crooks.”

The rumple and snap of a newspaper enticed me to the end of the bar. Leaving a trail of greasy footprints, I walked past a row of patrons, brushing their noses with my tail. The paper’s owner departed as I arrived, giving me full access to the plaything. I sat on the folded pages and delighted in the crinkle under my bottom. Between my paws, I noticed a sketch of a man with a passing resemblance to Mr. Arnold. Bald patches covered his head and fresh wounds marred his cheeks. If it was really the shoemaker, he’d paid for his crime.

“The cat, Mr. Pettigrew?” Eddy asked.

Drawn by my companion’s voice, I rejoined the men and sat near Eddy’s elbow.

“The cat!” Mr. Pettigrew said, eying me. “Yes, the cat. Sad creature. I suspected Abner Arnold put an end to its life, but when I visited the remnants of their home this morning, I knew  he’d done it. That mystical mischief is the talk of Green Street.”

“I suspect him as well. But why do you think supernatural forces are at work?”

He finished the flask and slapped the bar to call Mr. Jolley, professing his need for another round. “I suggest you visit what’s left of his home, Mr. Poe. Then you will see for yourself.”


Eddy marched up Franklin to Green Street with me tucked under his arm. Panting and wheezing from the exertion, he arrived at the Arnold’s razed home and set me on the sidewalk. Easily half the neighborhood had gathered to view last night’s accident, including Mr. Cook and Mr. Eakins. The men and women clustered around the debris, forming a wall of parasols, flat-brimmed Quaker hats, and the odd top hat. “Pardon me,” Eddy said, pushing between them. “I must get to the front. I am here on important business.”

I slipped through the human fence and meowed for Eddy to join me near the alley. The fire had blackened the bricks of the brownstone next door, but the building had experienced no real hardship. The blaze hadn’t jumped the alley or the street either, which meant I’d caused no harm to the innocent, unless you counted Mrs. Arnold. The guilty, however, had paid dearly. The cobbler shop, adjacent to the rear of the property, had suffered damage to its back wall but remained largely intact. Little remained of the home, save for a charred timber skeleton and a few determined walls.

“I do not see Mr. Pettigrew’s supernatural evidence, do you, Catters?”

I meowed and sniffed the still-wet pile of wood.

“By the by, I feel sorry for Mrs. Arnold,” he said to me. “Though I am not sure about Mr. Arnold. If he did  hang the black cat, this may be divine retribution.” He smoothed the back of his hair. “Or maybe he went on a spree before coming home and fell asleep with candles aflame. Mr. Arnold was quite the tippler, Catters.”

“Tippler, indeed,” said the woman at Eddy’s elbow. A lady of some wealth—not a Quaker—she wore a silken blue gown with a lace-paneled neckline. She closed her parasol with a snap. “In all my days, I’ve never seen a man more taken with drink than Abner Arnold. I don’t know how his poor wife copes. She’s up half the night, crying and pacing, waiting for him to come home from the tavern.” She pointed to the charred home next door with her umbrella. “I live right there, and I see everything. Everything .”

“Madam, was Mr. Arnold a cruel man?” Eddy asked her. “Capable of, say, cutting out a cat’s eye?”

She touched her breastbone and frowned. “He’s never been a kind man, always quick with his fists. Many a night I’ve heard them quarrel, and many a morning I’ve seen bruises on Mrs. Arnold’s face. But these last few months, he’s gotten worse. Much worse.” She shook her head. “It’s the drink, I tell you. It rots a man’s brain. And don’t tell me otherwise, because I read it in Godey’s. Thank goodness the temperance movement is taking hold in Philadelphia.”

Eddy pressed her. “The accident…do you think it was supernatural?”

“That’s what Mr. Pettigrew says. He’s been in and out of the shops this morning, spouting nonsense about ghost cats and revenge from the grave. He’s a regular Dickens.” She huffed. “It’s got nothing to do with ghosts and everything to do with spirits.”

Eddy nodded thoughtfully. The woman tried talking to him a while longer, but he’d already withdrawn into his thoughts. I brushed his leg to bring him round. “I do not like keeping company with Abner Arnold, Cattarina. I am convinced he killed Pluto in a drunken rage, and it frightens me that I—”

“Look!” Mr. Cook shouted. “It’s the ghost cat!” One large, flabby arm shot forward, and he pointed to a plaster wall near the center of the wreckage. It had fallen straight down from the second story and remained upright, bolstered by scorched furniture and twisted stovepipe.

The woman in blue shaded her eyes. “Wait! I see it! Mr. Pettigrew was right.” She caught her breath. “And it’s got a rope around its neck!”

Try as I might, too many legs prevented me from seeing the ghost cat.

“Oh, me! A sign from the Other Side,” Mr. Eakins said above the crowd. “I knew Abner Arnold killed the poor creature, and this proves it!”

A series of exclamations rose from the men and women: “Strange!” and “Singular!” The neighbors of Green Street pressed closer to look at the curiosity.

Eddy whisked me from harm’s way and sat me on his shoulder. A lady with a coalscuttle bonnet darted in front of us, causing my companion to stand on tiptoe for a look. “Oh, Jupiter!” Eddy said. He covered his mouth with his hand. “Can it be, Catters?”

On the lone piece of wall, I glimpsed the apparition in question—the outline of a hanged cat. Egad! I  had been the one to make the impression. The heat from the fire must have reacted with materials in the plaster, softening it enough to accept my mark when Mr. Arnold dashed me against it. Soot from my fur added depth and shadow to the gruesome likeness. The curtain cord that tangled my neck last night had been preserved, too, and looked very much like a noose. I hadn’t just caught and punished the murderer; I’d announced his wrongdoing to all of Philadelphia.

The Hundred-Dollar Bug

A MIRACLE OCCURRED AFTER Eddy and I left the Arnold house that day. He gave up spirits, home and away. Sissy’s mood and overall health improved, too. I cannot say that Eddy’s sacrifice caused the upturn—it may have been the dry weather—but more and more time passed between her coughing spells. This, in turn, lifted Muddy’s spirits. For the next half moon, Poe House took on a breeziness I could not explain but enjoyed nonetheless. Sissy filled our home with piano music and laughter again, Muddy whistled during chores, even waltzing with her broom on occasion, and Eddy wrote. He took up a quill pen each morning, prepared his ink and paper, and wrote to my heart’s content.

Musing occupied me most days. There were papers to weight and desktops to tail-dust and curtain cords to be batted when Eddy needed distraction. But when my companion took a much-deserved break, so did I. During one such respite, I caught an omnibus to Rittenhouse and told Midnight about Mr. Arnold and the penalty he’d paid for killing Snip. Midnight and I decided to remain friends and nothing more since neither of us fancied a long-distance relationship. I also made several trips to Green Street to gossip about the ghost cat, giving the facts of the case to George and Margaret, Silas and Samuel. During one such visit, I learned that while Mr. and Mrs. Arnold still ran their shop, they had taken up residence a few blocks north. As for the Snip’s grave, one could scarcely see it through the morning glory vines.

One summer afternoon, after a long session at his desk, Eddy and I entered the parlor in search of Sissy and Muddy. The two women sat on either side of the hearth in their rocking chairs—the elder knitting, the younger darning. “It is official,” he said to them. “I have finished ‘The Black Cat.’ It is an excellent eulogy, if I do say so myself.”

Sissy set down her mending and took the scroll he o

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ffered. She unrolled it and crossed to the open window. The sheer curtains blew into the room, fluttering against the page.

Eddy put his hands on his hips. “You don’t have to read it now, my—”

“Shhh!” Sissy said. “It has been weeks, and I cannot wait any longer.”

Eddy left to pace the hallway. I stayed, alighting to Sissy’s square piano. Certain we’d turned in our best work, I wanted to receive congratulations first. Sissy read to herself for a spell then finished by speaking aloud. “‘The falling of other walls had compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the lime of which, with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, had then accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.’” She glanced at me, her eyebrow arched.

She continued, “‘Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my conscience, for the startling fact just detailed, it did not the less fail to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse, and this lack of regret sentenced me to a hell beyond any imagined. The Black Cat had taken his revenge!’”

Muddy stopped knitting. “Is that it?” she asked.

Sissy flipped the scroll over and found it as Eddy had left it—free of letters. “Yes, that’s it.” She dropped into her rocking chair and gave her mother a troubled look.

The creak of wood called Eddy into the room. His hair stood on end, as if he’d been pulling it again. “Well?” he asked.

“It is…amusing,” Sissy said.

Muddy resumed her knitting. The needles clicked furiously.

“Amusing?” His eyes turned dull. “Is it not to your liking, Virginia? I worked so hard on it. I thought for certain—”

She rose to take his hands. “It was a good story, Edgar. I liked the supernatural elements. And the main character is sufficiently mad. I’m just not sure of the ending.”

“Did it not satisfy you?”

“It lacked your usual…well, your usual severity.”

He let go of her and crossed to the piano. I nudged his fingers. They remained limp. From the furrow on his brow, I knew we had more writing ahead of us. “Since the story is for you, wife,” he said. “I will try again. It must be perfect.”

“Don’t make it too perfect,” Muddy added. “You need to sell it and make rent.”

Sissy joined him. “The parts about the cat were realistic.” She tousled the top of my head. “Perhaps a little too realistic, considering Cattarina’s involvement in the fire.”

Alleged  involvement,” Eddy corrected her. He chucked me under the chin.

“Yes, yes, alleged. But the ending felt, I don’t know, incomplete, as if the horror hadn’t run its full course yet.”

“Did you at least like the beginning? Because I spent—”

A knock at the door cut him off.

Eddy left to greet the visitor and returned a moment later, his teeth in full view. “I have done it, ladies! I have won the Philadelphia Dollar  contest with ‘The Gold Bug.’” He waved the torn envelope, and I wondered if someone had mailed him a bug and if they had, why it pleased him so.

“Husband, I could not be prouder!” Sissy said. She clapped her hands.

Eddy handed the mail to Muddy and bowed. “Mr. Alburger’s rent, Mrs. Clemm. One hundred dollars ought to cover it!”


The gold bug turned our lives catawampus, and Eddy forgot about the black cat story. After the letter, Poe House overflowed with goodness. The first night, we celebrated with a feast to shame Christmas: corned beef with brown gravy, cod cakes, potato whip, succotash, cold slaw, rolls, and teacake. I could not attest to the vegetables or the sweet finish, but the beef and cod were delicious and their supply plentiful.

In the following days, Eddy lavished everyone with gifts. Muddy, he bought a brass soup ladle. He called it a scepter , and told the old woman to go forth and  rule the kitchen  when he gave it to her. I did not pretend to understand this. Sissy received a new dress to replace the one she’d burned after burying Snip. Sewn from grey-green silk, the frock rippled about her frame as she walked, mimicking the current and hue of the Delaware River. Tiers of bows, crafted from the same fabric, adorned the skirt hem and neckline. She called it her new town  dress. But I thought it more a river dress. Eddy also gave her a mother-of-pearl cameo that she pinned at her bosom and a red leatherette box in which to store the trinket.

And me, he bought the most wonderful gift of all.

One hot, prickly afternoon, Eddy snuck from the house and left me napping on the settee. When he returned, he called Muddy and Sissy into the parlor and set a cat-sized wooden box on the floor in front of me. “Watch and be entertained,” he said to the women.

Sensing the chest had been purchased for me, I obliged him and jumped to the floor to investigate. Wonder of wonders! The smell escaping the interior drove me wild. I bounced straight in the air and chattered my teeth. Had Eddy bought me a hen? When I pawed at the lid latch, he unfastened it, revealing the treasure inside—chicken feathers, heaps and heaps of glorious chicken feathers. I dove into their midst, sending the smaller, lighter ones into the air.

Sissy and Eddy laughed.

Even Muddy laughed and stamped her foot. “Where did you buy such a thing, Eddy?” she asked.

“I bought the box from Fitz. But the feathers came from the butcher. Didn’t pay a penny for them.”

I poked my head above the box rim and let the feathers cascade around me like falling snow. I loved the smell. I loved the squish. Far and away, this was the best gift I’d ever received, outside of Eddy’s love. I dove again and buried myself amidst the Poe family’s laughter. Sissy laughed loudest until a coughing spell overtook her, and she had to be led upstairs to bed. The gold bug had fixed many ills but could not right the one that mattered most.

Alas, our joy lasted only until the next wave of misery. After Sissy’s health scare, Mr. Cook gave a copy of the Daily Forum  to Eddy that sent my companion into a rage. “‘The Gold Bug,’” he read from the paper, “a decided humbug? What rot!” I wanted to understand the new words that surfaced in the wake of Mr. Cook’s delivery—accusations  and plagiarism —to comfort Eddy. But alas, I could not. Then things got worse, proving once and for all that misery plagued every  member of the Poe family.

The Other Black Cat

LATER THAT DAY, SAMUEL charged into our front garden, crushing the hydrangeas with his immense frame. His white chest puffed in and out with heavy panting. “Cattarina! Silas and I need your help! Urgently!”

“Whatever is the matter?” I asked. The toad I’d been stalking hopped away.

“Abner Arnold is adopting another cat!”

“Goodness gracious.” Earlier this summer, I’d told the brothers about Mr. Arnold and his nefarious deeds, embellishing the tale with my own exploits. Now, they possessed all the facts of the case. “How do you know?”

“He came to see our Robert about adopting again.” A hydrangea petal sat atop of his head. “After an alarming exchange, Robert threw him out of the house. Told Mr. Arnold to go home and pray for salvation . I think that meant ‘no.’”

“Most assuredly,” I said. “Then what happened?”

“Mr. Arnold laughed! Laughed, all the way down the street.” Samuel raked the petal from his head. “That’s not the end of it. As he left, he shouted more things about cats, things I didn’t understand. But I know he means to look for one elsewhere. I feel it in my whiskers.”

“Your whiskers? Oh, my.” I thought of my own, half-grown at this point.

“We can’t let that happen, Cattarina. Mr. Arnold must not be allowed to adopt again.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” I walked to the gatepost and waited for him to catch up. “Where is Silas?”

“He was too afraid to come. But if it’s urgent, I can persuade him to leave by the hole in our roof. That’s how I escaped. Robert is sleeping and won’t miss us for a while.”

“Gather George and Margaret Beal and Silas and meet me in your front garden. I will be there when the sun is at mid-point.” I said on my way to the sidewalk.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“To Rittenhouse!”


Midnight needed no convincing. I had but to utter Samuel’s words, and he accompanied me to the omnibus stop for the return trip. Coaxing him onto the conveyance, however, took every argument in my arsenal. When words failed, I bit him in the rump, and he boarded the horse bus without further quarrel. We arrived at Mr. Eakins’s house in time for the meeting. Per my request, George, Margaret, Silas, and Samuel waited for us in front garden by the zinnia patch. Mr. Eakins must’ve still been asleep since the cat social on his lawn had not drawn him from the house.

Once we’d dispensed with the how-do-you-dos, I opened with a question: “How can we stop Mr. Arnold from killing again?”

“We show him the error of his ways,” Margaret said. “If he repents, he will be a changed man.”

“My dear,” George said, “even with the help of an entire meeting house, that sounds impossible.”

“I know! I know!” Silas said. “We find a giant cage—like the one our Robert uses, but bigger—and we trap Mr. Arnold in it. Then we set him free in the country.”

“He’s not a rabbit, brother,” Samuel said.

I glanced at Midnight and thought how very much he looked like Snip. “Does the Thief of Rittenhouse have anything to offer?” I asked him.

“I’m sorry to not be of help, but—” His eyes grew wide. “I’ve got it! We can steal his shoes. Without them, he can’t leave the house and find another cat.”

“Did I not mention Mr. Arnold is a cobbler?” I said. “And that he makes  shoes?”

Midnight’s tail tapped the walkway.

“We could lure a pack of wild dogs to his house,” Samuel offered. “They would do our work for us. I’d tie a mutton chop round Silas’s neck and—”

“I am against violence,” George said.

“So am I!” Silas added, his whiskers aquiver. “Listen to George, brother. Oh, listen!”

“No one is tying meat around anyone’s neck unless it is mine,” I said. “And lunch is near.”

“What about you, Cattarina?” Margaret asked. “You’re the cleverest molly I know. You must have an idea you’re saving. Tell us.”

“I am clever, aren’t I?” I cleaned my face, pretending to think. Then I really did  think. Mr. Arnold had used devil  and hell  the night of the fire—two words I’d learned through Eddy’s work—and he’d treated me like a creature possessed. Mrs. Arnold had also used haunt , another term of familiarity, when she looked into the cellar. While I’d never faced these things in real life, I understood their gist, at least in human terms, and I took the cobblers for a superstitious couple. We cats have our own underworld, filled with fanged demons and ragged souls, but it is largely relegated to lore, stories used to scare kittens into behaving. After a fashion, I said, “I think you are right, Margaret.”

“I am?”

“You said to show Mr. Arnold the error of his ways, and I have a way to accomplish this feat. I’m not sure he’ll repent, but he may be frightened enough to leave cats alone. Forever. Except my plan involves a fair bit of danger...” I glanced at Midnight. “For one of us.”

“I’ll do it, Cattarina, whatever it is,” Midnight said. He fixed me with a round-eyed stare. “I can’t let another cat suffer.”

“Tell us your plan, Cattarina,” Samuel said.

I narrowed my eyes. “Snip is about to pay Mr. Arnold a visit…from beyond the grave.”


We reached agreement. Midnight would masquerade as Snip and scare Mr. and Mrs. Arnold into giving up the notion of pet adoption. The rest of us would take turns keeping watch over our pal from outside the home, lending a paw if danger surfaced. How I worried for Midnight’s safety! Abner Arnold had already killed once. If he killed again, I’d never forgive myself.

In order for Midnight to look like Snip, he needed to undergo certain transformations. For this, he accompanied me to Poe House. Outside our garden gate, I asked him to stand by until I secured a route since the last thing we needed was for Muddy to give him the sweep. I crept into the kitchen and found the old woman at the sink scrubbing a cooking pot and talking to herself. I encountered Sissy in her top floor bedchamber, napping. Eddy—my biggest concern—was not home. With the women of the house busy and the man of the house elsewhere, Midnight and I stole through the parlor window and upstairs to Eddy’s chamber.

“You are lucky to live here, Cattarina,” Midnight said.

“Our home is cozy, but it is not grand like yours,” I said.

We leapt to the desk and sat on the blotter pad.

“What does a cat need, beyond a bowl and pillow? I’m talking about what a cat wants .” He blinked. “You have purpose. A companion who sees you as an equal, not a plaything.”

I nudged his cheek. “Your Sarah may surprise you one day. She is young.”

He looked out the window, his pupils narrowing in the sun’s light. “She will never treat me the way your Eddy treats you.”

I could not disagree. “You have purpose here , Midnight, with Snip. Why don’t we work on your costume?”

He faced me again. “Where do we begin?”

I flipped the glass stopper from the inkbottle and drew my paw through the blackish-brown liquid speckling the blotter. Then I wiped it over the snowy mark on his chest, thinking to cover it and make him all black. The effect was less than convincing. The ink obscured part of the fur, leaving several visible patches of white that, when observed at a distance, appeared to form a gallows and noose…or a broiled chicken astride a galloping horse—I could not be sure which. Fiddlesticks. My lack of thumbs had never been a problem before.

“How do I look?” he asked.

“Purrrfect,” I said as convincingly as I could. “Now for your eye.” I jumped from the desk and nudged Eddy’s shallow closet open, following the scent of wax to hair pomade on the third shelf. The tin opened like a steamed mussel when it hit the floor. I dabbed a bit on Midnight’s eyelid to seal it, and hoped it would not cause an infection later. “There we are! You look just like Snip.”

“Do you have a mirror?”

“Er, no. We do not believe in such things in our house,” I said. “Vanity and all that.” I walked to the doorway and waited for him. He seemed to have difficulty navigating with one eye closed and bumped into the chair. “Are you okay?” I asked him.

“Purrfect,” he said.

We were both terrible liars.


Unsure of Abner Arnold’s whereabouts, Midnight and I headed to the cobbler shop first. Mr. Arnold was not there, but we noticed his wife outside near the sassafras, a small hand axe in her grip. It would’ve taken days to fell the colossal tree with this implement, especially when wielded by a woman of her stature. Yet Mrs. Arnold appeared resolute. She reared her arm back and let the blade fly. At first chop, Mr. Fitzgerald marched from his hardware shop and into the courtyard to confront her. He stood in the path of the woman’s swing, preventing another. Midnight and I scurried to the mouth of the cut-through and watched the argument unfold.

“We’ve been through this before, Mrs. Arnold,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “You will not touch this tree. Not so long as I own my shop.”

“Go away.” She circled the trunk and whacked it again.

Mr. Fitzgerald met her on the other side and grabbed the axe handle. They wrestled over the tool, stumbling over tree roots. Mr. Cook stuck his head from Mr. Fitzgerald’s shop and shouted, “I say, Fitz! Can I leave payment for the purchase?” He waved a handful of money. “Well?”

The shopkeepers ignored him.

“Leave me to my work!” Mrs. Arnold screeched at Mr. Fitzgerald. “Leave me, or we will pay!” She pushed the axe toward him, almost cutting his cheek.

Mr. Fitzgerald fell backward and, in doing so, wrenched the blade from her grasp. He scrambled to his feet and pointed the weapon at her. “No, you  will pay, Mrs. Arnold, if you touch this tree again! Do you hear me?”

She picked up a chunk of fallen bark and wagged it in his face. “Leave me to my business,” she said, sticking it in her pocket, “and I’ll leave you to yours.” Then she entered her shop and slammed the door.

Still carrying the woman’s axe, Mr. Fitzgerald gave an exasperated cry and returned to help Mr. Cook with his shopping.

“What a ruckus,” Midnight said. “Did you understand any of it?”

“Not a word. But Mrs. Arnold’s aversion to shade is obvious.” I approached the tree and sniffed the newly hewn trunk. It smelled similar to the tonic Eddy purchased every now and again—spicy and sweet. Sarsaparilla , that was the word. “If Mr. Arnold is not here, then he is either at home or at the tavern. Which should we visit first?”

“I’ll leave that to your intuition,” he said. “I trust it completely.”

We left at once for Jolley Spirits, traveling at a slower pace than usual because of Midnight’s closed eye. Franklin teemed with fast-rolling carriages and wagons and gigs; it also stunk with the byproduct of progress: manure. One didn’t need street signs to navigate Philadelphia; one only needed a nose. The sidewalks were no less congested. Once, I lost my pal in the folds of a lady’s voluminous skirt until he muddled through the fabric and into the light again. Oh, that eye! We traveled east on Spring Garden, passing by the open-air market across the street, until I spied the familiar ripped awning. Someone had placed an empty rum barrel near the front door of the tavern, providing Midnight and I with a platform. We sprang to the cask and peeked through the window.

“What does Abner Arnold look like?” Midnight asked.

“He is the cruel one,” I said matter-of-factly. “With a brooding face and eyes devoid of soul.”

Midnight ducked his head. “There! The old man who looks like beef jerky!”

“No, that is Mr. Jolley. He is no friend to cats, either, but Mr. Arnold is—” I set my paws on the glass, aghast at the figure of Mr. Arnold weaving across the tavern floor. The fire had contorted his neck and chin, giving his skin a molten appearance, like that of a melted candle. Bald patches, interspersed with tufts of hair, covered his head. “He’s coming! He’s coming!” I dove from the barrel and hid behind a stack of egg crates next to the grocer’s.

“Cattarina, how will I know him?” Midnight asked. His closed eye weeped from the pomade.

Mr. Arnold opened the door before I could answer. He hung onto the frame with hands the color of rare lamb and leered at Midnight. “Hello, pusssssss,” he said to him. “Don’t I…don’t I know you?” He hiccupped. “Why don’t you come home with me tonight, pussssss? I could use the company.”

Midnight’s good eye opened wide.

Mr. Arnold looked even more hideous in the daylight. A man of competing ills, his scabby neck and chin contrasted with the sallow tones of his cheeks, forehead…even eyes. He laughed and gave Midnight a shove, depositing him on the sidewalk. As I shadowed the pair to his new home—blocks from Poe House and from the help of feline friends—dread settled in for the journey.

Big Game Haunting

MR. AND MRS. ARNOLD lived a few blocks north of Green Street, in an area filled with shanties. The destruction of their old house and the partial ruin of their cobbler shop had put them in league with humans of low means. The wooden cottage had but a single story, no shutters, cracked or broken panes in almost every window, a walkway made of hand-dug stones, and a lopsided chimney I wagered kept more smoke in than it let out. Mr. Arnold staggered up the walkway, opened the door for Midnight, and shooed him inside with his boot.

The door shut behind them, sealing my friend inside.

A window ledge provided a perch from which to observe the interior. This proved less than fruitful since Abner Arnold slumped to the front hall floor after entering, too drunk to stand. There he fell into a deep slumber, allowing Midnight and me the full range of his property. “Hurry!” I said to my friend through a broken pane. “Explore every door and window. You may need an escape route later. I have some experience with this.”

“I’ll look inside,” he said to me. “You look outside.” With this, he vanished into the next room, but not before bumping into the doorframe.

The cottage had more in common with a produce crate than a home, yet I turned up no extraneous portals, save for a locked back door. On to the cellar. The home’s lower environs opened onto the street, guarded by a set of wooden panels warped by rain. I slipped through the crack between them, certain I could escape again if necessary, and descended to the flagstone floor below.

Abner Arnold’s cellar contained nothing of interest, save for a bag of quicklime, a bag of crushed rock, and a tower of bricks in the corner. The earthen room bore but one interesting detail—a recess in the wall near the kitchen stairs. The alcove had the makings of a fireplace, abandoned in early stages by bricklayers. Coincidentally, our cellar at home had a similar niche. Muddy had lined it with boards to store her summer canning.

A door opened and shut above me. “I’m home, Abner!” Mrs. Arnold shouted.

I left the cellar and retraced my steps to the rear of the home. With growing concern for Midnight, I became more brazen, alighting to the kitchen windowsill in full view. On this fine and fair day, the sun on my back, the cobblers would never catch me. Mr. Arnold had arisen from his stupor and sat with his wife at the kitchen table. They stared not at each other but at their new guest, who’d situated himself in the dry basin on the washstand. At first Midnight did not notice me. So I scratched one of the intact panes, loud enough for him and no one else to hear. Our gaze met briefly.

“Where did you find him?” Mrs. Arnold asked.

“Outside of Jolley’s,” Mr. Arnold said.

The window glass blunted their words.

She tilted her head. “Except for the white fur on his chest, he reminds me of—”

“Don’t say it.” Mr. Arnold crossed his arms. “Not sure if we should keep him.”

“Of course we should keep him,” she said. “It’s your chance to make amends.” Mrs. Arnold rose, poured a pitcher of water into a kettle, and set the kettle on the cook stove.

Mr. Arnold and Midnight eyed each other with an unbroken gaze. The room bristled with confrontation, though Mrs. Arnold seemed oblivious. When the teakettle whistled, the man reached for a pot of ointment in his pocket and applied it to the wounds on his neck, chin, and hands, turning his skin shiny. I thought of the salve Muddy put on my paws and licked my lips. “I liked the look of him before,” he said. “Now I don’t know.”

“He’s a fine cat, even if he’s missing an eye,” Mrs. Arnold said. “You didn’t do it…did you, Abner?”

“No. I swear it. It was missing when I found him.” He rubbed his stomach. “Don’t know why I eat at Jolley’s. Makes me sick every time.”

“I’ll fix you up.” Mrs. Arnold put several heaping spoonsful of loose tea in a cup and poured boiling water over the top of it. Then she set the refreshment on the table before her husband.

Mr. Arnold sat forward and pushed the cup aside. “Do you see a picture in his fur?” He pointed at Midnight. “There, on his chest.”

“Now that you mention it, the white does  make a pattern.”

“What do you see?” he asked.

Mrs. Arnold chuckled and said, “Roast chicken on horseback!”

“Bah,” he said, rising from his chair. “You think too much about food. I’ll be in the parlor.”

Mr. Arnold left the kitchen, followed by Mrs. Arnold and her tea tray a short while later.

Midnight hopped to the floor and approached the window. “They’re keeping me, Cattarina, just as we planned. Let the haunting begin.”


Throughout the waxing moon, Samuel, Silas, George, Margaret, and I kept watch over Midnight as he performed his otherworldly duties. This effort alone wouldn’t convince a man like Abner Arnold to abandon cats, so we all played a part. In the morning, I would follow him on errands, usually to the tavern, hissing and spitting from the shadows. If he stayed home, I’d dart to his bedchamber windowsill, careen off the glass, and leap to the ground in a continuous arc, performing this action over and over until he lifted the sash. “W-who’s there?” he’d say, followed by, “Is it the g-ghost cat?” Come afternoon, Silas and Samuel would sneak out of a hole in Mr. Eakins’s roof and gallop across the Arnold’s roof. The pitty-pat of the brothers’ footsteps kept Mr. Arnold on the threshold of insanity until dinnertime, when George and Margaret would take over. They caterwauled from the garden to upset Mr. Arnold’s digestion.

These efforts supported Midnight’s real  work inside the home. Eye ablaze, “Snip’s ghost” would stalk our victim room to room, unnerving him with an eerie low-pitched growl. I’d heard the sound more than once during my rounds, and it chilled even me . If the man tried to sit—in the parlor, in the bedchamber—Midnight would linger in the doorway and gaze at him with a hypnotic stare we cats reserve for mice and birds, the kind that turns prey into pudding. “What do you want from me? Leave me alone!” Mr. Arnold would shout.

Whenever the man of the house left, our pal turned into a different feline, different even from the one who lived in Rittenhouse. I’d never seen Midnight so vulnerable, so kitten-like. Over the days, he endeared himself to Tabitha Arnold, becoming an indispensible companion by warming her bed, catching her spiders, and listening to her stories. She did the same for him, scratching him just so , moving his blanket to follow the sun, even squiggling the odd piece of yarn for him. “There’s a good boy,” Mrs. Arnold would croon when he sat on her lap. Yet as soon as the man returned, Midnight would assume his role as specter.

And these exertions worked. I’d never seen a twitchier human than Abner Arnold. In a misguided attempt to restore her husband—I’d witnessed my share of useless home remedies—Mrs. Arnold plied her husband with tea every morning and every evening. But it was little use against the liquor he consumed and the mental anguish we doled out. Each day, his eyes grew yellower, his neck redder, and his stomach greener, the latter evidenced by daily purging.

Our “ghost’s” health fared only slightly better. Though the pomade had worn off days ago, Midnight’s eyelid remained closed. Poor thing. The infection I dreaded had become a reality. He’d showed me one afternoon while the Arnolds attended church. “Does it look bad?” he asked. “Will I lose the eye and become like Snip? Tell me the truth.”

“If you do, you will be even more  handsome,” I told him.

I should state here that these shenanigans came at no expense to the Poes. Muddy supervised the house during my absences, but I always—always —returned home to Sissy each night to warm her. The other cats took turns sleeping in the Arnold’s front garden so night duty wouldn’t fall derelict. Eddy didn’t write much these days and had no need for a muse, though a secretary might have been useful. He departed the house on more than one morning with a messy satchel of manuscripts and scrolls, scattering a paper trail up and down North Seventh. The first time, I tailed him as far as the omnibus stop, and overheard him tell the driver, Mr. Coal, he was off to file a libel suit . I couldn’t hazard what became of this libel suit  for Eddy never wore anything other than his somber black uniform.

While pulling these capers at the Arnold house, the loose friendship I had with Silas, Samuel, George, and Margaret tightened into a genuine troop—the Green Street Troop—and I began to think of them as family. Midnight, however, I thought of as more than family.


Around mid-summer, I met the Coon Cats by the Arnold’s garden gate as they headed home for dinner. I’d just finished my own meal and had come to fill in for George and Margaret since Margaret had caught a cold and could not rid herself of it. Even though this upset our schedule, the impending storm would’ve been the death of her. “Smell the rain? It’s coming,” I said to them. “It’s been so dry lately, I can’t complain.”

“I hope we make it home before the downpour,” Silas said. “It takes my coat ages to dry.”

“Cattarina?” Samuel asked. He rubbed against the picket post and scratched his back. “Do you think Midnight has taken a liking to Mrs. Arnold? The comfort he gives her seems more genuine these last few days.”

“And not at all pretend,” Silas added. He licked his nose.

“I am not sure,” I said. I did not wish to voice my concern to the others. “But I can tell that Mrs. Arnold has taken a liking to him. When she is with Midnight, her face shines.”


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ed by the love of a good cat,” Silas said.

Samuel trilled in agreement.

“Until Mr. Fitzgerald enters the picture,” I said. “They fight like couple of rabid dogs. Oh, the fist shaking and screaming! Axe  this and tree  that. Humans.”

“The heat drives them insane,” Samuel said. “Makes them do things they normally wouldn’t. They should try weathering it with a coat.” He turned and bit his rump, as if mentioning the coat caused the itch. “How much longer will it take Mr. Arnold to give up cats I wonder?”

Thunder rumbled in the distance.

“I shan’t expect much longer,” I said. “What’s the report?”

“Mr. Arnold’s mood is fair to poor,” he replied. “He’s been pacing a lot.”

Silas chimed in, “They are just about to dine—beef stock and crackers. If the haunting doesn’t do them in, starvation will, right brother?” His stomach rumbled. “Speaking of starvation, our Robert will be serving dinner soon. We must be home by then.” He nudged Samuel toward the street.

“I will be back for the overnight shift,” Samuel said as they left. “Until then, Cattarina!”

As I watched the brothers disappear down the street, I, too, wondered how much longer it would take to break Mr. Arnold of his “fondness” for cats. Soon, I hoped. I couldn’t see keeping this pace until fall. And Midnight’s eye needed to be washed and cared for lest he lose it. I approached the house and jumped to the kitchen sill to observe the goings-on.

Tragically, the answer to “how much longer” presented itself this very night.

During my brief conversation with the Coon Cats, Mr. Arnold had turned hysterical, evidenced now by his tortured expression and gnashing teeth. Perspiration darkened the shirt fabric under his arms, and his skin gleamed with sweat. Just as Samuel said, the man marched back and forth across the kitchen with large, angry strides. Soup and crackers lay on the table, untouched. Mrs. Arnold cowered in the corner. The grave situation grew worse when Mr. Arnold snatched Midnight and deposited him on the kitchen table, upsetting a soup bowl. “I see it! I see it!” he yelled.

Midnight quivered on the tabletop, no longer play-acting. I leaned in closer and bumped my nose on the window frame. Dash it all, I’d never catch the brothers in time.

“What is it, Abner? What do you see?” Mrs. Arnold said from the corner.

“The pattern on the cat’s chest.”

She joined him. “For pity’s sake, have you lost your mind?”

“It’s a gallows and hangman’s noose.” He turned Midnight around. “See for yourself.”

She inspected the white fur. “I see no such thing.”

“Look again,” he demanded. “It’s a sign from the devil. I know it. He’s come to make me pay for killing the black cat.”

Killing the black cat.  I didn’t need his admission of guilt but got one all the same. I paced the sill. George and Margaret could not be expected until morning, and the brothers were half way to Green Street by now. If Midnight ran afoul, I’d have to save him by myself. I inspected the cracked glass in the window. Should I break it and give my pal passage? Or should I go round front and create a diversion first? If the old man saw me, he would recognize me from the fire, and—

“You’re drunk,” Mrs. Arnold said, crossing her arms.

“No! No! Not a drop since lunch! I swear it!” Mr. Arnold clasped his hands and pleaded with his wife. “Oh, Tabitha, relieve this misery and confirm my greatest suspicion, that this cat is from the underworld!” He fell to his knees and grabbed his ears. “I am weary from the meowing and hissing and spitting—it follows me everywhere! I cannot escape it! The fire, the ghostly imprint upon the plaster… There is no corner of Philadelphia safe from four-legged demons, not even my home!”

“You need to rest, dear,” she said. She brushed Midnight from the table and tried to push him into the next room. I think she meant to save him, except the stubborn tom refused to leave and hid behind the washstand instead. The old woman turned to her husband with an insincere smile. “Abner, why don’t I fix—”

“No more tea! No more cats!” He sprang to his feet and grabbed her by the throat. “Mark my words, Tabitha Arnold. This hell ends tonight.”

Ravages of the Storm

THE BROKEN PANE SHATTERED with my charge, scattering glass to the kitchen floor. “Flee, Midnight!” I screeched. “He’s going to kill you!”

Abner Arnold twisted toward the window, fingers tight around his wife’s throat. His bottom lip trembled. “The hell c-cat lives! She’s b-back from the fire!”

Hell cat ? Fire?  All hope of anonymity vanished. This mattered less compared to a much bigger fix. Midnight had not moved from behind the washstand. “Have you lost your wits?” I said to him. “Run, you fool! Run!”

“I can’t leave without her, Cattarina,” he said. “She’s my companion now.”

“Tabitha Arnold?”

Abner Arnold released his wife and lunged for the window. I could not risk another go-round with this madman. As his hand burst through the jagged hole, I jumped from the sill, escaping his fingers at the last instant. He withdrew and slapped the window, depositing bloody handprints on the glass. “I will kill you, hell cat! I will strangle you with my own two hands!”

But these were not the words that haunted me on my race to Green Street. They were Midnight’s. “Save me, Cattarina!” he pleaded as I left. “Save us both!”


The wind blew me south toward my own neighborhood, shortening the time to Mr. Eakins’s home. I reached his front garden with scant daylight remaining. As luck would have it, the Coon Cats sat at the parlor window and witnessed my approach—from inside  the house. “Silas! Samuel!” I yowled to them. “Midnight is—”

Bang, bang, bang. 

I looked skyward. Mr. Eakins sat astride the roof peak, a hammer in his hand and nails between his teeth. Bang, bang, bang.  He brought the tool down again and again, striking a board that spanned a hole…just big enough for a cat to escape through. “Rain’s coming, mister,” he muttered to himself. “Better hurry or you’ll have your indoor plumbing yet.”

I bounded up the walkway and laid my paws on the large front window. “Midnight’s in trouble!” I said to the brothers. “You’ve got to help me!”

“We can’t,” Samuel said. “Our Robert found the hole and is sealing our route as we speak.”

Silas hung his head. “We are sorry, Cattarina.”

Bad luck, indeed. I left without goodbyes and ran to Mr. Beal’s home down the block to fetch George and Margaret. They, too, had been locked inside. They stood at the front window, their faces forlorn. “It’s the rain, Cattarina. Our Thaddeus wants to keep us safe,” Margaret said. She sneezed. “And warm. I am sicker with this weather.”

“There’ll be no talking him out of it,” George said. “It’s up to you to save Midnight.”

His words choked me, and I experienced—if but partially—the anguish Snip must have felt as the noose tightened around his neck.


As I entered the Arnold’s neighborhood, the magnificent ball of yarn disappeared from the sky, ushering in the night. We cats operated best in the dark, so I prayed this would be to my advantage. My heart pounded, more from my mental state than my physical, as I dashed past rows of houses. If anything had happened to Midnight while I’d gone for help, Mr. Arnold would pay with his life, if not tonight, at some point in the future. I reached the familiar front gate and skidded to a stop near the post.

Great Cat Above! Would this night of horrors never cease?

Mr. Fitzgerald stood at the couple’s door with Mrs. Arnold’s hand axe—the object of their continued bickering. He knocked with the back of the metal head and waited, his tall, gaunt frame mirroring the gables on either side of the eaves. The wind blew again, lifting his thin hair. I did not move for fear of drawing attention to myself.

Mrs. Arnold answered, her hair tangled and about her shoulders, the skin under her eye swollen. The fight between her and her husband had raged on in my absence. “Mr. Fitzgerald?” she said. She wiped her face and straightened her dress.

“Good evening, Mrs. Arnold.” He raised the axe and spoke in monotone. “I think we should bury the hatchet once and for all.”

In her fear, she committed the unthinkable. She opened the door and let him into her home. As the door closed behind them, sealing Midnight inside, I thought of our salvation: Eddy.


Sissy’s protestations echoed down Minerva. “How could you?” she wailed from inside the house. “How could you go back on your word?” Her voice carried far enough to give Mr. Cook something to gossip about tomorrow. Raindrops pelted my fur, urging me up the walkway and into our home through the open kitchen window. I located husband and wife in the parlor. Eddy lay on the settee, his suit coat turned inside out, his hair brushed onto his forehead. Sissy stood in the center of the rug, arms crossed.

“You promised you would stop, Edgar,” Sissy said. “Promised .” She stamped her foot.

I slunk into the room and sat on the hearth, pondering this new turn of events. If Eddy had taken ill, I couldn’t engage his help. The front door opened and closed, and Muddy entered the parlor still wearing her straw bonnet, the one with faux cherries. Much too gay a hat to be paired with her somber black dress, it nonetheless suited her. She’d always been a woman at odds with herself. “The storm is coming, Virginia. We’d better latch the shutters and—” She spied Eddy on the settee. “What’s this?”

“It’s what it looks like, Mother,” Sissy snapped.

The old woman approached her son-in-law, laying a hand on his forehead. “Don’t be too hard on him, dear. You can’t expect him to shed his condition in a single month. Not without help.”

Sissy sighed. “I suppose all the money from ‘The Gold Bug’ is gone.”

“I saved a little back. We are not destitute.”

Sissy knelt and shook Eddy’s shoulder to no effect. “Husband! Wake up!” she cried.

I would not be so delicate. I trotted past Sissy and jumped on my companion’s chest. He did not stir. At this very moment, Mr. Arnold or Mr. Fitzgerald could be turning Midnight to mincemeat. With great vigor, I sharpened my claws on Eddy’s shirtfront, catching, I hoped, a bit of skin in the process. He giggled. Curses.

“There is no waking him, Cattarina,” Sissy said to me. “He is beyond help.” She offered her mother a weak smile. “How is Mrs. West? Still complaining about President Tyler?”

His Accidency ? Yes, ad infinitum.” She removed her bonnet and laid it on the mantle. “Let’s get him ready for sleep,” she said.

I slunk to the hearth to think while Sissy and Muddy removed Eddy’s jacket and shoes. Midnight needed a human’s help, but that human would not be Eddy. Sissy had proved handy during the Glass Eye Killer affair, and she might again, I reasoned. As I watched the dear girl drape Eddy with a crocheted blanket, I settled on a new plan. Once Muddy went to bed, I would lure Sissy outside and to the Arnold home where she would intervene on my behalf. Midnight could stay here for one night and return to Rittenhouse in the morning. I got my wish when the old woman announced, “It’s bedtime, Virginia.”

“I’ll be along, Mother,” she said. She knelt by Eddy and smoothed his hair from his face. “I need another minute.”

“As you wish,” Muddy said. “Turn off the lamp before you come up. And check it twice. That Arnold fire still has me spooked.”

Once Muddy left, Sissy whispered to Eddy, “Edgar, can you hear me? You tried. I know  you did. Tomorrow will be better, won’t it, my dear? We will make do.” She pulled the covers around his chin then coughed into her hand. “I love you, husband. Good night.” She kissed him on the forehead and rose to light a candle, still coughing all the while. When she extinguished the lamp, I started for her, winding around her skirt to drive her to the door.

“Cattarina? What do you need?” She knelt beside me and held the candle near. Her cheeks burned brightly in the golden flicker.

Keeping my tail high, I trotted into the hallway.

“Do you want out?” She followed me to the door.

Near the threshold, I curved the end of my tail, calling her forward like a fish to a hook. We did not communicate with our upper minds as Eddy and I did. That required a deep bond, deeper even than the one Sissy and I shared. Yet her tail reading showed promise.

“Oh, you clever girl,” she said. “You want me to follow you. Is there trouble like last time? Mother won’t miss me if I’m back in a blink, and why should Eddy be the only one behaving irresponsibly? Two can play at that.” She took her wrap from the coat hook and opened the door. Rain blew into the entryway, pricking my face. Sissy coughed. “Ready when you are, Constable Claw. Lead the way.”

I thought of Midnight beneath the axe. Then I thought of Margaret and her sneeze and how the wet weather made it worse. No matter how much peril Midnight faced, I couldn’t send Sissy to an early grave. She would expire in this gale and leave Eddy even more anguished than before. I scampered back into the hallway and waited for her to close the door. I wheezed with relief when she did.

“Change your mind?” she asked.

I sat at the foot of the stairs, indicating her next move. She took my advice, and we ascended to her chamber. So she wouldn’t wake Muddy, Sissy tiptoed about the room, preparing for bed. I curled at the foot of her mattress and waited for her to come and sleep, too. Then I would sneak out and do what I could to help Midnight.

All night thunder boomed and lightning cracked, keeping Sissy awake. Every time I tried to leave the bedchamber, she would sit forward, rub the center of her chest, and whisper, “Where are you going, Cattarina?” and “Is there trouble? Should I follow?” I doubted she would go out so late at night, but I could not take the chance. She’d done as much last fall when I least expected it, and after the argument with Eddy, her mental state appeared compromised. I tried to convince myself Midnight had hidden in the attic to escape Mr. Arnold and Mr. Fitzgerald, except I’d witnessed his loyalty to Mrs. Arnold. He would no more desert her than I Eddy. Or Sissy.

When thunder rattled the windowpanes, I wrapped my tail around my nose and prayed for morning. Keeping one friend alive meant dooming another.

The Search Begins

AT FIRST LIGHT, I awoke at the foot of Sissy’s bed. Between my apprehension and hers, I got very little sleep. My bedmate must’ve nodded off during the night, however, for she slumbered beside me now. I looked across the room at old Muddy. I’d beaten her to the dawn. With my thoughts still on Midnight, I slunk downstairs, unbeknownst to anyone. Eddy snored from the parlor, right where the women had left him last night. Before the family could wake, I unlatched the front door, loosening it with a jump and jab, and fled into the neighborhood.

Water shimmered on the empty cobblestone streets, reflecting the rosy hues of sunrise. The storm had blown over. I noted a few broken tree limbs and flipped umbrellas as I headed north, but otherwise the Spring Garden area appeared normal—save for the carnage at the Arnold house. I began to run and did not stop until I reached the cobblers’ stone walkway. Setting aside thoughts of my own safety, I leapt through the hole I’d made in the window last night and alighted to the kitchen floor. The room stood empty. “Midnight!” I called.

No answer.

“Midnight! Are you here?”


I searched the tiny single-story for any sign of the Arnolds, Midnight…even Mr. Fitzgerald. When that failed, I looked in the cellar. Not one person. Not one cat. Not one drop of blood.


Mr. Fitzgerald stopped sweeping to watch me enter the courtyard in front of his shop. “Hello, Catterina,” he said. “You’re out early this morning.” I sat nearest the cobbler shop and studied the man next door. At least I had found one of the humans in question. Had he killed Midnight and the Arnolds last night? Or had Abner and Tabitha taken Midnight for a stroll in the Spring Garden market, as Eddy and Sissy had done with me? Since the latter scenario was unlikely, the former scenario, however unfortunate, took root. Nevertheless, I clung to hope. In order to conduct a search for my friend, I needed some measure of it to function.

I examined the area in front of the shoemaker workshop, looking and sniffing for any sign of my pal. The shop’s dark interior, observed through the plate glass window, confounded me. Tabitha Arnold always closed shop on “the Lord’s day,” or at least that’s what Muddy called it. Yet that day had not come. I knew because the eldest member of our house hadn’t laid out her town  dress or her black book last night in preparation.

A man brushed by me as I turned to leave. I recognized the stocky gentleman at once—Mr. Pettigrew. He jiggled the handle to the Arnolds’ shop and scowled. After uttering a few terse words I shall not repeat, he surveyed the courtyard and located Mr. Fitzgerald. “You there!” he bellowed. “Do you know when the shoemaker will arrive? I’ve got a bone to pick with him. Rain seeped in my shoes last night and ruined my stockings.”

“I imagine the store will be closed today,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “The Arnolds are suffering from…maladies. I called on them last night, and they were doing poorly. Come back tomorrow.” He brushed the collected debris into the street and entered his shop.

“Maladies,” Mr. Pettigrew said under his breath. He looked me. “Stay away from here, pussycat. Mr. Arnold doesn’t like your kind.” With a tip of his hat, he left the way he came, the soles of his shoe flapping on the sidewalk.

Though I could not imagine Mr. Fitzgerald cleaving anyone, least of all Midnight, I entered his shop just in case. It presented no new evidence, so I left for Mr. Beal’s house to speak to George and Margaret, cutting through the alley. The Quaker Cats, too, had set out early, and I caught them near the razed Arnold home. The lot had been cleared shortly after the fire. In recent days, bricklayers had built a maze upon the blank earth. I’d watched them at their work, a dull affair second only to Muddy’s scrubbing of the walkway.

“We were coming to find you,” George said. “The Coon Cats are still with Mr. Eakins and won’t be leaving today. Maybe not even tomorrow. Any word on Midnight?”

“No, haven’t seen him. And worse, the Arnold house is empty.”

“Empty?” Margaret said with a sniffle. “Where could they have gone?”

“I intend to find out,” I said. “But I need your help.”

“We are always here to help,” George said. He lowered his head. “Except for last night. Margaret and I are sorry, Cattarina.”

“Truly sorry,” Margaret said. “But Mr. Beale locked all the windows and doors—even the shutters—with the coming storm. We couldn’t leave. And with my cold, it would’ve been too dangerous.” She sneezed, illustrating her point.

“If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine.” I sighed. “It was my plan.”

“And now Midnight’s dead,” Margaret said forlornly.

“No, we mustn’t think like that,” I said. “Grief will slow our efforts.”

“Don’t worry, Cattarina. We’ll turn over all of Philadelphia if we have to,” George said. “Midnight will surface.”


George and Margaret agreed to search the streets while I returned to the Arnolds’ residence to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Since I’d botched things last night, I decided to once again enlist human help. Sissy’s keen eye rivaled my own, and Eddy’s mind worked in ways beyond comprehension. At this point, I would even take Muddy if I could push her from the kitchen. Across the street from Poe House, I caught Eddy and Sissy leaving a cab. From their costume, they had come from a grand affair. Eddy wore his brocade waistcoat he saved for readings, and Sissy had donned her new river dress. Arm in arm, the couple lingered on the sidewalk, in no particular hurry to go home. I watched them for longer than I should have, considering Midnight’s predicament. Perhaps sentimentality had gotten the best of me, but I had never seen Eddy so happy, so far from the melancholies of last autumn. I wanted him to stay that way forever. My one regret? That I  had not been the one to bring about the change.

The carriage driver snapped the whip and urged the horse down the street. Then a pony cart driven by a freckle-faced girl whizzed past. What traffic! When the road cleared, I joined the pair mid-conversation. “Was the meeting to your liking?” Sissy asked Eddy. She’d curled her hair. Two black locks hung in spirals on either side of her ears. A closed fan dangled from her wrist.

“The Sons of Temperance is a fine organization,” Eddy said. “I should’ve attended a meeting sooner, but I was waiting for the right moment.”

“And it came.”

He patted her hand. “I am sorry, Virginia.”

She gazed at him. “Today we start anew, Edgar.”

It did this cat good to see her companion so full of merriment. But I had a task and could not be deterred. I waited for them to begin walking then introduced myself to their cadence. This step could not be skipped when attempting a feat of this complexity. It was one thing to bring a human from parlor to kitchen; it was quite another to guide them through the neighborhood.

“Good day, Catters,” Eddy said. “I trust you slept well.”

“Oh, she didn’t sleep well at all,” Sissy said, looking me over. “Poor thing wouldn’t stay put last night. Must’ve been the storm.”

I ziggety-zagged in front of them, orchestrating their strides without raising suspicion. They paid me no mind and continued chatting as they passed Poe House.

“It’s odd that Tabitha Arnold wasn’t at the meeting,” she said. “She even urged me to go. Told me she’d meet me there.”

“I didn’t mind,” he said. “It gave me more time with my beloved.”

I pushed them north past the intersection of Green Street.

“An afternoon stroll is an exquisite idea,” Sissy said. She opened her fan and waved herself.

“I thought it was your idea,” Eddy said.

“As long as it was someone’s  idea.” She laughed and hugged her husband’s arm tighter.

We navigated wicker buggies filled with tots and toddlers wielding horehound sticks. The tiny humans delighted Sissy, for she smiled and pointed at each one, remarking on their cherub cheeks  and angelic smiles . I stayed the course, thinking solely of Midnight, and detoured them west toward the Arnolds’ home.

She closed her fan. “Do you ever want children?”

“What has gotten into you, Virginia?”

“On days like this, when you are…” She cast her eyes downward. “…healthy, I think what a wonderful father you would make.”

“We’ve been through this before,” Eddy said. “It would be too taxing for you.”

She bit her lip then said, “Are you sad?”

“I am always sad, my wife. But you and you alone make me better. You are my queen in this kingdom by the sea.” He gave her a wink.

“That’s a lovely sentiment, Edgar. You must think about putting it to verse.” She laid her head on his shoulder and continued in silence.

Ziggety-zag, ziggety-zag, all the way to the cobblers’ home. Exhausting work, but I’d done it. I deposited them in front of Abner Arnold’s house and turned up the walkway. They did not follow. Running out of both patience and time, I yowled. And good.

“I think she means for us to join her,” Sissy said. She pulled Eddy to the door. “Who could live here, I wonder? Do we know anyone on Logan Street? What a gay adventure!”

“I am game for an escapade.” He rapped the door with his knuckles. His enthusiasm vanished when Abner Arnold answered the door.

Frightened, I dashed behind the folds of Sissy’s skirt. We would never gain access to the home, now that the cobbler was home. Midnight could be inside, in need of my help, and I could not give it. I peeked around the volume of silk and watched the exchange.

“What do you want?” Mr. Arnold said. His shirt had come untucked and hung about his waist like a short dressing gown. Even from behind Sissy’s skirt, I caught the scent of rum. He scratched the peeling scabs on his chin and neck.

Sissy regained her composure first. “We are looking for your wife, Tabitha,” she said. “Is she here?”

“No, and you can thank Mr. Fitzgerald for that,” he said. “She ran off with him last night. Can’t trust the Irish, can you?” He swayed, leaning against the doorframe for support. “If he tells you any different, he’s a liar the size of Pennsylvania.” He rubbed his stomach and winced.

“Your wife left you?” Eddy asked.

Mr. Arnold pushed the door open with his foot. “You see her inside? You see her at the shop?” He scowled. “Didn’t think so.”

“Did she give a reason?” Eddy asked. I could not see his face, but his voice held genuine concern.

“Women don’t need a reason, do they?” Mr. Arnold said, casting an eye at Sissy. “Don’t drink, Abner, it’s not good for you,” he said in a high timbre. “Don’t go to Jolley’s tonight, Abner, you’ll put us in the poor house.” He spat on the ground and lowered his pitch to normal. “Bah! Good riddance to her, and good riddance to you.” With that, he slammed the door in our face.

Eddy didn’t move. He looked at his shoes. Mr. Arnold had given him something to think about, though I knew not what.

Sissy took his hand. “Husband? Are you well?”

He lifted his gaze and searched her face, his eyes glassy and wet. “I am very  well today, thank you, Mrs. Poe.”


Sissy waited until we’d reached North Seventh before speaking of the cobblers. “Husband, something is wrong. I do not trust Mr. Arnold’s story. Why would Mrs. Arnold run away with Mr. Fitzgerald? It doesn’t make sense.”

“I’ll say. I never pegged ol’ Fitz as a lover.” His mood had brightened since our chat with the cat killer.

“Eddy!” she said. “That is not what I mean! And lower your voice. I don’t want anyone hearing you say that  word in public.”

“What? Fitz ?” Eddy said.

“Oh, how you tease.” Sissy slapped him on the arm with her fan.

I trailed several lengths behind them, disheartened by countless failures. If I didn’t find Midnight soon, I’d have start looking for his grave. What had I done? When I thought of George and Margaret, I trotted ahead, in line with my companion. Maybe the Quaker Cats had discovered Midnight this morning, alive and well.

“I think Tabitha Arnold could be in real trouble,” Sissy said. “Mr. Arnold gave me a queer feeling. He had an untamed look about him, like a hungry tiger.”

“A hungry tiger! What wild imaginings!” Eddy chuckled. “May I remind you, Mrs. Poe, that you wrongly suspected Mr. Fitzgerald of killing Pluto. Not everyone can rationalize like my Detective Dupin.” He steered them around a window-shopping couple before resuming their path on the sidewalk. I stepped onto the cobblestones to accommodate the detour. “Mind the street, Catters,” he said to me. “Mr. Arnold may drive his carriage down the street and kill the lot of us.” He waved his hand. “In one pass.”

“Make fun if you will,” Sissy said. Her earlocks bobbed as she spoke. “But Tabitha told me she’d be at the temperance meeting this morning. She would never close shop on a Saturday. And by the by, Mr. Fitzgerald’s not out of the stew pot yet. He and Tabitha have been arguing over that tree for months. What if he did something to her—”

“My dear! I have heard enough! We will speak to Mr. Fitzgerald and get the story from him.”

It didn’t take long to reach the shops of Franklin Street. We discovered Mr. Fitzgerald sitting in the shade of the sassafras tree, his back to the trunk, sipping a cool drink. I wasn’t sure we’d find Midnight here, but my ideas had run their course. After pleasantries about the weather—did they not understand the urgency?—Eddy and Sissy recounted much of what they said on the walk. It did not match word for word but contained many of the same themes, including Tabitha Arnold . This gave me courage, for if we found her, we’d probably find my pal.

“Abner Arnold is a right fibber,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “It’s true. I paid them a visit last night. But I left alone, coming back to the store to tidy up. There’s been a run on buckets since the fire at their house, and I can’t keep the display in order.” He took another sip from the glass. I admired the bony apple bobbing along his neck.

“How lucrative,” Eddy said.

Sissy elbowed her husband. “Did Mrs. Arnold seem well, Mr. Fitzgerald?”

“Not at all. In fact, I think she and Mr. Arnold had been arguing. A real knock-about if you ask me. I’d bet anything the old man had just come from the grog shop.” He winked at me. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, Cattarina? You’re a lady.”

I turned to show off my tail.

“Thank you, Mr. Fitzgerald. You’ve been most helpful,” Sissy said. She pulled her husband in front of the cobbler shop, and I joined them. “You see!” she whispered. “Mrs. Arnold is&nb

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sp; in trouble.”

Eddy frowned. “I think we should call Constable Harkness.”

I swiveled my ears, catching the name. Though I did not hold much stock in Constable Harkness’s rationation skills, he did  serve on the side of justice. A shame he hadn’t been summoned for Snip’s killing. This could have all been avoided.

The Return of Constable Harkness

CONSTABLE HARKNESS LIVED ON Green Street, but much farther west than I could’ve traveled by paw—nearly half way to the Schuylkill River, by all accounts. For expediency’s sake, Eddy hailed a private car for us, an open carriage meant, I was certain, for bird watching. I so  admired the acrobatics of the purple martin. Presently, the driver parked in front of a brownstone hung with potted ferns. Smoke filled the sky here, blanketing the firmament with the haze of burnt metal. This stench ruined an otherwise handsome neighborhood.

We strode the sidewalk, and Sissy coughed straightaway in the foul air. Eddy touched her shoulder with concern, but she proceeded to the constable’s stoop and rapped on the door. We waited. The constable shuffled inside, moving and shifting things around, as if our arrival had taken him from an important task. “I’ll be right back, Matilda,” he said from the interior. “Never fear.”

The door opened.

An older, white-haired gentleman I hadn’t seen since the fall stood before us in a brown suit and blue waistcoat. I hadn’t been the only one to pack on flesh since our move, though Constable Harkness wore it better than I. He held a watering pot that dripped onto the toes of his shoes. “May I help you?” he asked.

Sissy assumed the lead. “We’ve come to—”

“By God, it’s you! It’s really you!” the constable said to her. He smiled at me, teeth hidden by his bushy mustache. “And you’ve brought that cat of yours! Fine specimen, she is. Beautiful tortoiseshell.”

A cough escaped her mouth instead of a greeting.

“Come in! Come in! The air is terrible here.” The older man led us, rather her  down the tapestry hall runner. “You can thank the iron works for the smoke. The factory’s almost next door.” We entered the parlor. On my last visit, I’d stayed outside and eavesdropped from the window. The interior had a brassy, bright feel, more so than I would’ve imagined given the man’s tarnished demeanor. “How have you been? Why I haven’t seen you since—”

“Since you came to our house on Coates,” Sissy added.

“Harumph, yes, of course,” he said.

The constable offered us the couch, a tufted affair that poked my hindquarters with buttons. Eddy and Sissy sat on either side of me, and I made a home between their knees. Skulls, a strange brass tube, a raccoon tail, glass orbs in every size, a collection of dead butterflies, and other oddities beckoned me from a large curio cupboard spanning the wall adjacent to the fireplace. While these items intrigued me, they paled when compared to the large ivy sitting atop the cabinetry. A fantastical plant, its numerous tendrils tumbled over the woodwork and cascaded toward the floor, giving one the impression they had entered not a brownstone, but a jungle. I longed to scale the greenery and explore the upper environs. Alas, a diversion was out of the question. Any tomfoolery on my part would unravel the investigation faster than lace tatting between the claws. Muddy had still not forgiven me for shredding her favorite doily.

“So you and Constable Harkness are acquaintances?” Eddy asked his wife. “You spoke only briefly last October.”

Sissy shook her head at Constable Harkness. Eddy did not catch it as I did.

“I am a memorable fellow,” the constable said to him. He set his watering can on a side table.

“And my cat?” Eddy asked.

“Cattarina? Why I barely know her,” he replied.

When the constable called me, I jumped from the couch and rubbed along his pant leg, ingratiating myself to him. I had escaped parrot prison, battled fire, grappled with a killer, survived bodily harm, and yet this  act took the most courage. I am not, nor have I ever been one to grovel. Nevertheless, Constable Harkness had the resources to find Midnight. The older gentleman sidestepped my generous deposit of fur. Odd. Had he not spoken my name? He retreated to a wingback chair near the fireplace and flapped his fingers, discouraging me from further attempts.

Barely know her . I see,” Eddy said. He turned to Sissy.

Her cheeks flushed more than usual. “We should explain ourselves, Constable Harkness,” she said. “We have much to tell.”

“It’s not a social call?” He glanced at the sprawling plant. “Matilda and I get so few.”

“No, it’s a matter of urgency,” Eddy said. “We fear a woman’s been harmed.”

The constable scowled and clutched the arms of his chair. “Mr. Poe, you should work on your story openings. You might’ve told me this in the first place. Now take the work of Washington Irving—”

Eddy shot to his feet. “Washington Irving is much overrated. And there is nothing wrong with my storytelling.”

“Really, sir, I must object. Washington Irving is a brilliant writer, a visionary—”

“Visionary? I’ll grant you Irving is a pioneer. But sir , he is no writer.”

Sissy tugged Eddy’s coat sleeve and coaxed him back to the couch of many buttons. “Husband, we are here to discuss Mrs. Arnold, not debate literature.”

I jumped on his lap to keep him seated. Midnight could not afford another delay.

Eddy stroked my back and settled onto the cushions. Once he began the oft-told story, I left him in favor of the curio cabinet. I pawed open the door to inspect the skulls. Some belonged to humans, others belonged to dogs and rabbits, others still belonged to species of unknown origin. I wondered if the gentleman had hunted them himself. If so, my estimation of him had just increased whiskerfold.

“Those are  suspicious circumstances, Mr. Poe,” he said at the end of Eddy’s tale. “What is your account, Mrs. Poe?”

Eddy crossed his arms and  his legs. “Yes, Mrs. Poe, I am awaiting your account as well. Your full  and truthful  account. Will you give it?”

She laughed gaily, an odd response to what should have been a serious conversation. “You must excuse my husband, Constable. We’ve had an unsettling day. And we owe it to Abner Arnold. He is up to mischief, I know it.” She fixed the older man with a dark stare. “I feel  it.”

Constable Harkness pursed his lips then said, “I don’t like the sound of that Arnold fellow. I’ll round up the watchmen and question the neighbors, new and old. Don’t worry, Mrs. Poe. We’ll find Tabitha Arnold if she’s alive.” He offered his hand to her, helping her from the couch. “Or even if she’s dead.”


“Quiet! Quiet!” Constable Harkness shouted over the voices. A familiar crowd assembled near Mr. Arnold’s house on Logan, evidently at the behest of the watchmen. A pawful of these black-cloaked enforcers lined the sidewalk, spacing themselves like crows on a clothesline. They held their long, pointed poles at an angle, forming a crisscross between each man to keep people from wandering. I did not count Watchman Smythe among their number. A pity. I’d met him during my last adventure and considered him trustworthy.

“Thank you all for coming,” the constable said to the people once they’d settled. “If you are forthcoming, I will be brief. If you are not, you will stand beneath this hellish summer sun until I am satisfied.” He mopped his brow with a handkerchief and tucked it in his waistcoat pocket.

I climbed to Eddy’s shoulder and surveyed the gathering over the top of Sissy’s bonnet: Mr. Eakins, Mr. Cook, Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Pettigrew, Mr. Jolley, even the old lady with the parasol whom we’d spoken to near the Arnold’s old home, and of course, Abner Arnold. Anyone with knowledge of the cobblers had been invited. I couldn’t have done a better job if I’d picked them myself. The watchmen must have escorted them here while Eddy, Sissy, and I dined at home with Muddy.

“Can we get on with this nonsense?” Mr. Jolley asked. “I left my cook in charge of the till, and I’ll bet my dying breath he’s filching it.”

“Very well,” Constable Harkness said. “Today, Mr. E. A. Poe and his wife paid me a visit, claiming that a Mrs. Tabitha Arnold, citizen of the Spring Garden District, has gone missing from her home. This  home.” He motioned to the shanty behind him.

Abner Arnold leaned against the garden gate, his shirt collar damp with sweat. His perspiration didn’t register as peculiar on a summer day. The sun had dampened my coat, too. But when combined with his vacant stare and yellowing skin, it pronounced health problems for all to see. This illness had affected his reason, for he seemed less concerned with the citizens gathered against him than the object in his pocket, which he fingered beneath the fabric.

“We’ve heard as much from the watchmen,” Mr. Pettigrew shouted. “Tell us why we’re here.”

“There were too many conflicting stories about the woman,” the constable said. “So I brought you here to sort it out. Some believe Abner Arnold is behind her disappearance. Who holds this opinion? Speak now.”

“Oh, me,” Mr. Eakins said. “Anyone who can kill a cat is deranged enough to kill a human.” He scratched his elbow.

“Kill a cat?” Constable Harkness asked.

Kill a cat.  Yes, now  they were snapping the reins. What had taken me a day to solve had taken these people over a moon. Poe family excluded, most humans exhibited a feebleness of mind I found appalling. For this very reason, cats allowed themselves to be domesticated. Had we not, humans would have gone extinct from sheer stupidity. One had only to witness the use of a chamber pot to agree.

“Yes,” Mr. Eakins said. “I set him up with a black tom named Pluto. A few weeks later, the poor creature was hung from a tree near his shop…with its eye gouged out! Who else could have done it?” He motioned to the cobbler with a gnarled finger. “Out with it, Arnold. Acknowledge the corn.”

The accusation woke Mr. Arnold from his daze, and he took his hand from his pocket, giving full attention to the crowd.

“It’s true,” Mr. Pettigrew said. “Pluto’s ghost visited that same night, burning Mr. Arnold’s house down and leaving a demonic mark as a warning for all to see.”

Eddy touched my tail. “A fine likeness of you, eh, Catters?” he whispered.

I was too busy avoiding Mr. Arnold’s cold stare to reply. The man had noticed my personage atop Eddy’s shoulder and gazed at me with consternation, as if he recognized me but couldn’t sort the particulars. Pardon, but do we frequent the same stationer’s? The same grocer’s? No, no, I burned your house down and drove you insane. Ah! That clears it up! Good day, miss!  The few instances we’d met, he’d been inebriated, and I attributed his memory loss to this. For once, I thanked liquor.

The lady with the parasol nodded. “You won’t find a more pickled human being than Abner Arnold. The devil drove him to drink, and the drink drove him to kill. I lived next to him on Green Street.”

“What superstition!” Constable Harkness said. “Who has evidence  of the cat’s killing?”

“I do,” Sissy said. She opened her white tasseled wrist bag—she’d secured the carryall after our luncheon—and produced the page I’d torn from Mr. Eakins’s Book of Cats. “This proves Mr. Eakins gave Mr. Arnold the black cat. It contains the Arnolds’ old address and a drawing of the creature.” She ignored Eddy’s sharp inhale and offered the clue to the constable. “And many witnessed Pluto hanging from the tree. The courts aren’t interested in animal cruelty, I know. But this proves he’s capable of dreadful things.”

Mr. Eakins gave a little hop and clap. “Hee! That came from my book all right. But I don’t know how you  got it, Mrs. Poe.”

“I-I found it in the street,” she said. She glanced at me, then back to the crowd. “Mr. Fitzgerald, tell everyone about the rope Abner Arnold bought from your shop.”

Eddy gave Sissy a wry smile and whispered, “This is your  affair, not the constable’s, is it not? Superb orchestration, my dear. Detective Dupin may yet have a rival.”

Sissy put her finger to her lips.

“That’s right, Mrs. Poe,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. With his near-emaciated frame, he was the only one among us not sweating. “He bought the rope from me in May. I’ve long suspected Abner of the cat’s hanging. And just last night, I witnessed the couple arguing.”

Abner Arnold forgot about me. He shook his head as a dog might after a good rain shower then took a series of slow, labored steps toward Mr. Fitzgerald. Had he been this feeble last night, Midnight might’ve escaped unharmed. I wondered what had caused the stark change in his personality.

“This is all very interesting,” Constable Harkness said, “but I fail to see how the killing of a cat—”

“Forget the cat,” Mr. Arnold said with a rasp in his throat. “Fitzgerald took Tabitha from me. Then he killed her!”

Whispers rose from the crowd, the loudest of which came from Mr. Pettigrew, “Pshaw, that Irishman couldn’t scare a crow from a cornfield.”

The watchmen knocked their poles together, quieting the crowd.

Mr. Arnold screwed himself up to his full height, still a tail-length shorter than Mr. Fitzgerald. “Fitzgerald! Tell everyone how you came to my house last night with an axe.” He wiped his mouth with his jacket sleeve.

Mr. Fitzgerald laid his hands alongside his cheeks. “I’m afraid it’s true.”

“You turned up last night to threaten me. Said if I didn’t let you leave with my wife, you’d give me the blade.” He made a chopping motion against his scarred neck. “You gave it to her instead.”

The lady with the parasol gasped.

“No!” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “You’re lying!”

I yawned. Talk, talk, talk. We needed claws on the ground and tails in the air. And why had no one thought to search the home? I hopped to the ground and wove my way to the garden gate, avoiding the many feet. Something about this morning’s exploration bothered me, though I could not say what. I thought back to my investigation, going over each room in my mind. I remembered nothing of importance. I’d found the house in perfect order and the cellar empty.

The dispute continued behind me.

“Constable Harkness!” It was Mr. Cook’s turn. “I saw the shopkeepers arguing a few weeks back, something about a tree. Mrs. Arnold wanted to chop it down, and Mr. Fitzgerald didn’t. They came at each other, hammer and tongs, I tell you. Then he finished the fight by saying he’d make her pay if she touched the tree again.”

Mr. Fitzgerald pinched the bridge of his nose.

Mr. Pettigrew spoke next. “Mr. Fitzgerald had plenty of answers when I visited him this morning. He knew Mrs. Arnold wouldn’t be around to open her store. It was all very mysterioussss.” He drew out the last word.

“Whose side are you on, Pettigrew?” Constable Harkness said.

“Fitz is no murderer,” Eddy announced to the crowd. I so admired his speaking voice. He saved it for recitation since it commanded full attention—as it did now. All listeners turned to him. “Mrs. Poe and I are united in our support.”

“I could not agree with my husband more,” Sissy said.

“Thank you,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “I am glad someone  will vouch for me.”

I sat on the walkway and swiveled my ears. Mr. Arnold had shut the front door, but I had other means of entry. I reached the kitchen window to discover a rag stuffed in the broken windowpane. Drat. I could not enter here. I retraced my steps to catch Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Arnold on the brink of physical confrontation. They faced each other, hands balled into fists.

“You killed her, Arnold,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “And are looking to blame me.”

“Not true! Not true!” Mr. Arnold shouted to the listeners. “Mr. Fitzgerald did it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you can’t trust the Irish.”

Mr. Fitzgerald charged Mr. Arnold and knocked him to the ground. The meaning of Irish  eluded me, but it held power. The two men grappled on the sidewalk, punching and flailing and kicking. One of the watchmen inserted his pole between the men and pried them apart. This did not please the shopkeepers, and the men rejoined to finish the battle. At Constable Harkness’s signal, the full complement of watchmen intervened. I marveled at the writhing pile of humans. Extinction indeed.

On my second sweep, I detected an indistinct yelp, so faint I could not divine its direction. Then I heard it again. It could’ve been my imagination. Or the wind. Nonetheless, I trotted around the house to investigate, pausing before the cellar doors. I had examined the earthen room this morning and found it empty. Empty? Had I not seen the bag of cement and the tower of bricks? No, they’d been missing. I’d found another clue! As before, I squeezed through the warped opening and descended the street staircase into darkness. A respite from the sun, the damp stone floor welcomed my paws. The sharp odor of quicklime permeated the air, along with a weaker but no less nauseating smell. I sneezed.

“Help me,” someone said.

I froze near the kitchen staircase, frightened by the request.

“Oh, won’t somebody help me.” The weak but familiar plea arose from the wall to my right. My tail switched side to side. Someone had placed bricks over the recess near the stairs, entombing my pal between the layers. Damnation. The new masonry resembled the old, and in my haste this morning, I’d failed to notice the damp mortar.

“Don’t worry, Midnight!” I yowled. “I have found you!”

Midnight’s Tale

“I WILL FREE YOU,” I said to Midnight. “But for kitty’s sake, how did you become trapped behind this wall? Masonry is not the swiftest of endeavors.”

“I had no choice,” he said.

I moved closer to hear him and caught another whiff of the stench. At least it was not Midnight’s rotting flesh I smelled. “Speak louder,” I told him.

Midnight raised his voice. “When you left last night, Mr. Arnold became enraged. He took the anger he had for you and turned it on Tabitha. He tossed dishes, turned over chairs. And then…and then he grabbed Tabitha by the neck again. I was convinced he would kill her on the spot. Then someone knocked on the door and interrupted him.”

“Mr. Fitzgerald.”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Please continue.”

“Mr. Arnold blew like the north wind when Mr. Fitzgerald arrived. As soon as he spied the axe the other man had brought, though, he put on a good face and invited him into the parlor. I couldn’t believe the civility! They talked about trees  and grudges  and burying the hatchet . You’d have taken them for a couple of nannies strolling through Rittenhouse Square! At the end of everything, Mr. Fitzgerald said I’m sorry  and handed the axe to Mr. Arnold. I’m sure you can guess this sealed our fate. Once the tall, bony gent left, Mr. Arnold turned to his wife with a look I never want to see on another human being as long as I live, a look of gleeful hatred. She fled through the kitchen and into the cellar, and I, of course, followed. The lock did not catch in time. I still don’t know why she chose to hide instead escaping to the street.”

“Humans do not think when they are afraid,” I offered.

“Mr. Arnold crashed through the door and down the steps. With a cruel laugh, he swung the axe, catching Tabitha in the head.”

“Goodness gracious. Another murder. This one should land him in the penitentiary.”

“Mr. Arnold must have been planning it all the while.”

“Indeed,” I said. “I found his masonry supplies at the start of our adventure, but I could not have guessed their purpose.”

“The fiend shoved her body in the alcove, and when he turned his back to prepare the mortar, I crept in behind Tabitha. There I hid for the duration.”

“Whatever for?”

“She is my companion!” he wailed. “Would you leave your Eddy?”

“No. Not even in death,” I said. “I will save you, Midnight. Let me return to my humans, and—”

“Don’t abandon me again, Cattarina!” he cried. “It’s very dark in here. And my perch is…uncertain.”

My heart beat a little faster. “Do not be frightened,” I said. “Take comfort in the words of Meowléiere. ‘The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it’.”

“Do not quote at a time like this!” he screeched.

“Sorry,” I said. “The burden of verbosity is heavy. There are moments when—”

“Cattarina Poe!”

“Yes, yes, of course.” I took a deep breath and let out a scathing caterwaul that echoed throughout the chamber. I gave another and another until the doors at the street opened.

A shaft of sunlight filled the cellar. I dashed to the opening, expecting to find Eddy. The misshapen face of Abner Arnold loomed above me.

The Specter of Memory

ABNER ARNOLD REACHED FOR me and missed. I longed to slip through the portal and into the crowd above, but he blocked the entrance. So I repeated Mrs. Arnold’s mistake and looked for a hiding place in the interior. Poor woman, had she been a cat, she might’ve evaded her husband, for I found one straight away. I bounded up the kitchen staircase, careened off the top step, and sprang to a wooden beam, coming to rest in the space above the floor reserved for bats. Mr. Arnold had just entered the cellar when Eddy charged down the street entrance steps, followed by Sissy, Muddy, the constable, Mr. Fitzgerald, and the cadre of watchmen. The remainder must have taken their leave in the interim, for they did not appear next.

“Unhand my Cattarina, sir! Do not touch a single whisker!” Eddy said to Mr. Arnold. “Or you will feel my fists upon your head!”

Fear prevented me from leaping into Eddy’s arms. If I did, would the cobbler turn his fury on my companion, as he had on his own wife? Midnight’s cautionary tale chilled me, and I did not wish a similar version to play out here and now. My haunting  performance had rendered Mr. Arnold insane. If the memory fog lifted and he recognized me as the same apparition from before, unpleasant would not begin to describe the outcome.

I walked along the joist and sat above the group. I convinced myself the situation called for strategy and patience, two things a huntress like me had in great supply. Moreover, now that Eddy and Sissy—two of the most capable humans in existence—had arrived, the wall puzzle would soon be solved, Midnight would be freed, and Constable Harkness would apprehend Mr. Arnold. I likened these machinations to the guts of Muddy’s mantle clock, and they must not be disturbed. Or eaten. I wondered sometimes how the old woman tolerated me. Slowly, very slowly, I lifted my tail and withdrew it from sight, laying it next to me on the wooden beam.

“Your cat?” Mr. Arnold said. “She’s Satan’s cat. And she’s here somewhere. I’ll find her yet.”

Eddy grabbed the man’s lapels, but Mr. Fitzgerald intervened, wresting my companion away. “Let the law handle him, Poe,” he said. “He’s finished.”

Sissy coughed into her handkerchief. “What is that smell?”

“It’s quicklime,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “I’d know it anywhere. Mr. Arnold bought a bag from me a week ago.”

“More lies,” Mr. Arnold said. He wiped sweat from the back of his enflamed neck.

A large cloth sack wedged between the joists by the stairs drew my attention. With perfect balance, I walked toward the item along the narrow beam. The bag contained the dry, gritty material I’d seen the masons mix at the new home site on Green Street. I glanced at Mr. Arnold’s head below. The tufts of burned hair formed a forest of stumps on his scalp.

“Enough talk,” Constable Harkness said. “Abner Arnold, now that we are in your house, do I have your permission to search it?”

“Go right ahead,” he said. The cobbler ascended the steps and flung open the kitchen door. “You will find nothing.” I shifted into shadow, certain he’d see me from this height. To my relief, he resumed his spot without incident.

Constable Harkness dispatched all but a single watchman to the ground floor of the cottage, commanding the enforcers to inspect every room for Mrs. Arnold . Human olfactory senses did not rival a cat’s or everyone in the room would have realized the woman lay beyond the brickwork and not upstairs. The constable posted his remaining man, a fellow he called Johnson, at the staircase near the street and stayed to converse in topics of which I had no interest.

Dust settled through the cracks, sifting us with debris as the Watchmen pounded above. Mr. Arnold withdrew and sat on the stairs, his head between his hands. Meanwhile, Eddy searched for me in the damp, dark corners, calling, “Catters…here, Catters.” As I expected, he paused at the newly bricked recess and studied the mortar. He tugged the top of his hair, lost in thought. I settled onto my perch and tried to influence him from a distance. Eddy did his best thinking under my gaze.

Sissy wiped the sediment from her hair and clothes. “Cattarina!” she said. “Are you here? You can come out now. It’s quite safe, I assure you.”

“She will turn up, Mrs. Poe,” Mr. Fitzgerald assured her. “Cats are rather genius.”

“Mr. Fitzgerald,” Sissy said, “what is quicklime used for? Mother uses lime  to preserve her eggs, but is that different—”

A watchman leaned through the kitchen door and said, “We’ve searched the entire house, what little there is. Mrs. Arnold isn’t here.”

“Gather the men and leave for my house,” Constable Harkness said. “Johnson and I will be along shortly.” He glanced at his pocket watch and buttoned his coat, indicating a departure.

The cobbler jumped to his feet, his ailment forgotten. “Go! That’s it! Go! I told you I was innocent.” He laughed and danced a little jig.

The constable ignored him and approached Sissy and Mr. Fitzgerald. “Sir, you have my leave. For now,” he said. “But I may have questions for you later.”

Mr. Fitzgerald hopped to it. He waved to the Poes as he made for the street. “Goodbye all! Goodbye!” He slapped Johnson’s shoulder on his way out. “Have a good afternoon!”

I stood and switched my tail. Eddy and Sissy had not solved the wall puzzle in time. Fiddlesticks. If Constable Harkness left, Mr. Arnold would never pay for his crimes. I contemplated which head I should pounce upon, Mr. Arnold’s or Constable Harkness’s. I settled on the constable’s. In the interest of solving the bigger crime, he would likely reserve punishment for my much smaller one. Besides which, Mr. Arnold scared me furless.

“You can’t,” Sissy said to the constable. She clasped her hands together. “Please. We haven’t found our cat yet.”

Eddy returned to his wife and held her close. “With or without Mr. Arnold’s blessing, we will stay and look for Cattarina. Do not fret, my dear.”

I crouched, calculating my angle.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Poe, but I must depart for home. Matilda is waiting. If you wish, I can leave Johnson,” he said. The man eyed a large crack in the brickwork near his feet. “I’m surprised the hovel didn’t collapse during our visit.”

I wiggled my rear, preparing for the jump.

“Hovel?” Mr. Arnold said. “I’ll have you know, this is a very well-constructed house.” He rapped against the brick wall with his knuckles.


Surprised by the howl—it had not come from me—I almost slipped from the beam. The room fell silent. The blood drained from Mr. Arnold’s face, turning him chalky.

“Meeeeoooowwwrrrrrr!” Midnight said again. The blow upon the bricks must have stirred him.

“That sound, it’s…it’s inhuman,” Eddy said, “and it’s coming from behind the wall! I knew the masonry looked recent.”

“Quicklime,” Sissy said under her breath. “Of course.”

“Johnson! Come here!” Constable Harkness clapped his hands. “Tear it down!”

“No!” Mr. Arnold protested.

Yes! Demolish the wall and reveal the evil deed! I leapt to another joist for a better view.

Eddy grabbed the cobbler by the shoulder and held him back while Johnson broke through the bricks with the watchman’s pole. As the mortar had not set, the structure fell with ease, revealing the body of Tabitha Arnold. She lay crumpled against the alcove’s interior and stared back at us with eyes much farther apart than nature intended. She had her husband to thank for this new look, as he’d split her skull nearly in half. The axe cleave ran from the top of her pate, along the bridge of her nose, and down to her chin, parting the hemispheres of her head. Perched on top of the woman’s corpse was Midnight. Infection had swollen his eye shut, giving him a rather hellish appearance. His tail bristled, and he spit fire at the man who’d killed his companion.

Sissy swooned. Constable Harkness caught her in time. “Poe,” he said, “yo

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u’ve got a murderer in your hands. Hold him tight.” He helped Sissy to her feet and lent her his arm.

“It’s Pluto, b-back from the dead.” Mr. Arnold strained to reach Midnight. “I walled the monster up within the tomb!” Eddy struggled to keep him still while Watchman Johnson looked on, dazed by Tabitha Arnold’s bloody corpse.

“Johnson! Drop your pole and help Mr. Poe,” the constable said. “Place Mr. Arnold under arrest.”

Watchman Johnson blinked.

“Never! I will not go to jail for something I didn’t do!” Mr. Arnold said. He twisted from Eddy’s grasp and pulled a knife from his pocket—the same pocketknife I’d seen at his house on Green Street. Before Watchman Johnson or Constable Harkness could stop him, Mr. Arnold unlocked the blade and dove for Eddy.

I unlocked my own and sprang from the joist.

I did not believe in hell, but if it existed, Abner and I would go together. I landed, claws first, and opened his scalp like a mouse belly. He dropped his knife and tried to swat me from his head, but I persisted. Unable to see with my back claws digging into his face, he staggered toward Eddy, and Eddy tripped him. The cobbler stumbled to the floor and stayed there. At last I had felled my quarry! I jumped to safety, settling near my companion’s feet without so much as a bent whisker.

“Don’t forget, Mr. Arnold,” Eddy said to him. “You can’t trust the Irish. Or their cats.”

Mr. Arnold stared at me, his eyes round and unblinking. “Release me from your power, you demon!” he shrieked. His eyes flickered with recognition. His memory had returned. “You are the cat in the fire!” he said to me. “You are the cat that haunts me! You are the c-cat…” He rolled to his side and drew up his knees. “It is coming back to me! It’s all coming back! The drink addled my brain. I have blacked out before, but never…never…” He slapped the flagstone floor in anger. “No, no, no!”

“What is coming back?” Sissy asked.

“Speak, man,” Eddy said.

“I killed Tabitha! I am the villain!”


Eddy wanted nothing more to do with Abner Arnold or his dreadful cellar. Despite his wishes to the contrary, Sissy demanded to stay and minister to the sick . This involved feeding Midnight a saucer of milk and wiping his ruined eye with a damp cloth. She completed these tasks in the Arnold’s kitchen after giving her husband a kiss on the cheek and a promise to return home soonest . At their parting, I divined that Eddy knew Sissy had secrets, and Sissy knew Eddy had secrets, and they each resolved to let the other keep them. My intuition aided more than just the hunt.

Sissy set Midnight on the kitchen table and examined him all over. “You poor thing,” she said to him. “A hot meal and a warm bed are what you need. I know just the home for you.”

I supervised from the floor. The murmured voices of the watchmen floated up from the cellar through the planks. They’d been with Mrs. Arnold for the duration and would probably remain with her long after Sissy, Midnight, and I left. As for Mr. Arnold, Constable Harkness put him in a wagon that I hoped was bound for Eastern State Penitentiary.

“Your mistress is kind,” Midnight said to me. “I like her.”

“She is not my mistress,” I said. “That implies inequality. However, we can agree on her kindness. You will not find a more caring human, besides my Eddy, of course.”

Sissy left us to wash her hands in the basin.

Midnight looked at me with his one good eye. “We did it, Cattarina. We avenged Snip. Though at the cost of a woman’s life.”

“Your companion’s life.”

“Yes. That pains me. Deeply.” He settled into a kitty loaf and tucked his front paws under his chest. “Now that I know true companionship, Cattarina, I can’t go back to Sarah.”

“Dear me, that is a problem. I will think on it.” I joined him on the tabletop and groomed his ears. We purred together, harmony and melody.

“Mrs. Arnold may have a salve I can use on your eye,” Sissy said to Midnight. “It can’t hurt to look.” She began a search of the kitchen cupboards, opening and closing the drawers to the jingle of flatware. She unfastened the cabinet at eye level to reveal rows and rows of canning jars filled with brown shavings. “Hello, what’s this?” She took down a container and unlatched the metal catch, releasing a spicy sweet smell that filled the room.

My tongue paused, mid-lick.

“Sassafras bark,” Sissy whispered. “And so much of it.”

The odor drifted through my thoughts, a long forgotten ghost that haunted my memory. I traveled to the edge of the table and studied the jar in her hand. Mrs. Arnold’s tea, of course. The woman had served so many pots of it to her husband—watering him as Constable Harkness did Matilda—that the scent had etched itself into the story, the black cat’s story.

Strong Medicine

“DOCTOR LEABOURNE,” SISSY ASKED, “what do you think of Sassafras tea?”

In the days following the discovery of Mrs. Arnold’s body, Eddy invited Dr. Leabourne to Poe House. The physician visited often, and though he could not cure Sissy, his presence always seemed to give the family hope—in my estimation, the strongest medicine. Late this afternoon, he and I sat on the edge of Sissy’s bed, examining our patient, who reclined against her pillows.

“Sassafras tea?” he asked. Robust of frame and nature, Dr. Leabourne was the catch of the litter. I had never seen a more angular jaw, a fuller head of wheat-colored hair. But he was no Eddy. “Do you mean taken as a tonic?” He took her wrist and placed his fingers over her veins. I did not know what covering them would do but noted it anyway.

“Yes, do you have any faith in it? I thought it might help my ailment.”

“Sassafras is a blood tonic.” He released her wrist and felt her forehead, a more familiar procedure. “It will do nothing for consumption, I’m afraid.” He withdrew his touch and reached for his black bag. “If you like the taste, you may have it as a refresher. But I caution you. It has poisonous effects.”

Sissy sat forward. “Poisonous? How so?”

“It’s very damaging to the organs, especially if they’re weak to start. If taken for too long a period, it causes sweating, nausea, even hallucination.”

“Can it kill a person?”

Dr. Leabourne snapped his bag closed. “In large doses? Most certainly.” He rose from the bed. “You are as well as can be expected, considering the fright you had. Get plenty of good food, plenty of fresh air, and stay—”

“I know, stay home and rest.” She flopped back against the pillows. “That may comfort the body, but it positively shrivels the mind.”

“Feel better, Mrs. Poe. Feel better.” Then he left, as he usually did, to speak Muddy and Eddy in the parlor and give them his diagnosis . In truth, I had already made my assessment. But I much preferred the doctor’s optimism.

Sissy pulled me onto her lap. “Cattarina? Did you hear the doctor? He said sassafras causes hallucinations. Even death.”

Death . Her glee did not match the topic. Perhaps the doctor had left too soon.

“Do you know what this means? Tabitha Arnold didn’t want to fell the sassafras tree. She wanted its bark for tea. Don’t you see?” She held me up and looked into my eyes. “Mrs. Arnold wanted to kill Mr. Arnold, and who could blame her? The debt, the drinking, the violence. Liquor had already weakened his liver, and the sassafras doomed it.” Her eyes twinkled. “This  must have caused the delusions that led to his murderous actions, not the trips to the tavern. Oh, I am so astute!” She hugged me tight. “We make a grand team, don’t we, girl?”

When I wiggled, she released me and left the bed to tidy her hair in the mirror over the dresser. “I give this secret to you and you alone, Cattarina. We must never, ever  tell Eddy that any means other than the bottle moved Mr. Arnold to violence.” She slid another pin into her bun. “I have my reasons. And besides, it won’t make a bit of difference to Mr. Arnold since he will live out the remainder of his days in an asylum. And I do mean days.” She finished by giving the back of her head a partial look in the glass.

We arrived downstairs to find Dr. Leabourne at the door. Eddy tried to press a few coins into his hand, but the good doctor refused and took a handshake instead. Once we were alone, Muddy revived us with a suggestion. “Who would like an early supper? If you don’t expect fixins, you can have it now.”

Supper ? Yes, I would take piece of chicken skin, dear Muddy. I’d already smelled it from upstairs.

“For once, I have an appetite,” Sissy said. “Let’s eat.”

“That is no wonder,” Eddy said, guiding his wife by the small of her back. “Dr. Leabourne says you are in good health.” He ushered her into the kitchen, along with the rest of us, and sat her at the table. “And to celebrate, I’d like to present my story, ‘The Black Cat.’”

“You finished it?” Sissy asked.

“I will leave that to your conclusion, wife.” He produced a scroll from inside his coat. “You broke my heart after the first draft. See if this one is to your liking.” He handed the curled page to her.

The story had taken but an instant to finish after the horror in the Arnolds’ cellar. That very night, once Sissy and Muddy had been put to bed, he and I worked at shaping the letters, staying up until dawn to finish them. My crime solving had yet again inspired him to write. As his muse, this thrilled me since I had begun to feel my importance slipping as of late, at least with regard to his work. The document stayed on his desk another day while he considered it. I likened it to a pie on a windowsill. He must have thought it cool enough to bring down this morning.

Muddy stoked the cook stove with a piece of kindling. “Read the story aloud, Virginia.”

Once Eddy took his seat, Sissy unrolled the paper, her fingers shaking, and recited his words: “‘One night as I sat, half stupefied, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat—a very large one—fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast.’”

Muddy floured and fried the chicken while her daughter read, nodding at parts of the story. When the old woman turned her back, Eddy took down a tin of jerky from the pantry and fed me a piece. And then another. I came back again, but he waved me away. So I settled next to his feet and contented myself with the sound of Sissy’s voice. I realized now that Eddy could not live without either one of us. To thrive, a writer must have a muse to bring the story and an audience to appreciate it. Sissy and I were not exactly a team. But to quote Ariscatle, “Our whole was greater than the sum of our parts.” Constable Harkness would have to agree. We’d helped him, too.

“Oh, Eddy,” Sissy said at the end, “this is a marvelous eulogy.” She handed the scroll back to him, and he replaced it in his jacket.

“So you like it?” Eddy asked.

“How could I not?” she said.

“I liked it, too,” Muddy said. “Even if it parts from the truth here and there.”

“Some of the circumstances have been changed to protect the innocent,” he said. He reached down and patted the top of my head.

“Mother? Can you give us a minute?” Sissy asked. “I need to talk to Eddy, alone.”

“Watch the stove,” Muddy said before leaving. “I don’t want it to get too hot.”

After a quiet period, Sissy spoke. “Your writing had more depth than usual.”

“It did?” Eddy’s shoes shifted beneath the table. The elation in his voice heartened me. “I simply paid the black cat the kindness he deserved—”

“That’s not what I meant,” she said. “Mother may not have heard it between the lines, but I did. How the main character’s drunkenness led to the ruination of his sanity? And took away his wife?”

Eddy did not answer.

“I will always be with you, Edgar, in life and in death. Do not fear. But our kingdom by the sea needs a strong ruler. Will you try again? For me?”

“Yes, Virginia, of course.”

A light scratch at the kitchen door stirred me. I hopped on the sideboard and peeked through the window. Midnight sat at the backdoor, waiting for it to open. I looked to Eddy and Sissy, still in the midst of their talk. Though from her smile, it had turned to lighter subjects.

“I’ve been wanting to tell you for weeks, Sissy, but we’ve been so busy,” Eddy said. “I heard from William again about the collection. The Prose Romances of Edgar Allan Poe  will soon be for sale. I am the luckiest man alive!”

When they embraced, I jumped down to visit with my pal, causing the tom to leap with fright. “I only meant to startle you, not set your heart afire,” I said to him.

“It’s just been a few days since my Tabitha’s death, and my nerves are still mending,” he said. He stared back at me with both eyes. “My infection is mending, too. Mr. Eakins applies a cream every morning and every evening. But I can open the lid now.”

“Cats are his business, you know.” I sat near the nail head that once vexed Eddy. Muddy had knocked it flat with a rock and a curse in recent days. “Do you mean to stay with the old man?”

“That’s one of the reasons for my visit.”

“We are the others!” Silas said, skirting the corner with his brother. His fur shook as he trotted. “Greetings, Cattarina! We found a new escape hole in the cellar!”

“You are looking well,” Samuel said to me.

“I am resplendent with victory,” I said. “I trust you heard our haunt was successful?”

“All of Spring Garden has heard!” Silas said.

“Join us?” Midnight asked.

Eddy and Sissy would not miss me if I returned by moonrise. I followed the toms to the now-familiar courtyard on Franklin. Near the base of the sassafras tree, George and Margaret waited next to a coiled snake of sausage links. “Hello, Cattarina!” they said in unison.

“How marvelous!” I said. “Where did the meat come from?”

“You may be the Huntress of Spring Garden,” Midnight said, “but I am the Thief of Rittenhouse.”

And so he was. He would steal part of my heart this night, the part I considered feral and free and utterly feline, and he would never return it. We tore apart the links and ate them by the tree that started it all, honoring Snip with our camaraderie. Mr. Fitzgerald’s shop was closed this time of day, and Mr. Arnold’s shop stood vacant and boarded. Aside from the lamplighter working his way along Franklin, we had our privacy.

When we’d finished our repast, my pals offered their goodbyes, along with assurances of future meetings. While our friendship had just begun, I could not say the same of Midnight. He and I stayed behind, nestled among the roots of the tree. “Thank you for the gift,” I said to him.

“The sausage? It was nothing.”

“No, the gift of memory. I love this tree, and I will be glad to think of pleasanter things when I pass it. There are so few scaling trees left in this part of Philadelphia. It’s all in the bark, you know. If it’s too smooth—”

“Cattarina, I’m leaving.”

Twilight settled into the courtyard, blending with the tree’s shadow until they became one. “Yes, I know,” I said at last. “When Sissy took you to Mr. Eakins’s house, I predicted the outcome. Will you be very far away?”

“I will be with a family on a wagon. From the way it’s packed, I think they mean to travel a great distance. They need a mouser for the journey, you see. I put that much together. Though I still don’t know what a Missouri  is.”

Mizzzzouri . The word that tickles my tongue,” I said. “Are you pleased with your family?”

He stood and arched his back, giving it a stretch, then walked into the open. “Very pleased. My new companions are a young man about Sissy’s age and his wife—Ben and Aggie.”

“Any children?” I followed him and brushed along his side.

“No. But I expect that will change. By then, I will be king mouser and will have earned a good place in their home.” His pupils grew very large. “Think of it, Cattarina, I will have a job. A purpose.”

“All cats should be so fortunate,” I said.

“Come with me?” When I did not answer, he licked my cheek. “Then I’ll visit you one day.”

“Or I will find you.”

We were both terrible liars.

Once he left, I climbed the tree and watched the black cat, my  black cat, vanish between the darkened buildings of Green Street. I would miss him, but I could not leave Eddy, for my companion held the other part of my heart, the part that was constant and pure and completely devoted. From here, Poe House was no bigger than Sissy’s red trinket box, so fragile and small. Oh, how I longed to protect that little dwelling and keep its occupants safe and merry, if not for all time, then for as long as possible.

And I did until fall, the season of the raven.

Dear Friend:

Soon after our adventure, the newspaper printed the black cat’s eulogy . I surmised as much from the stack of copies Eddy brought home and from the fuss he made over one particular page. Nothing escapes this cat of letters. Speaking of me, and I am always  speaking of me, I considered the papers splendid napping material.

In the meantime, we do hope you purchase one of Eddy’s works. Winter is coming, and we are in need of mutton.

And chicken feathers.

Yours truly,

Cattarina Poe

“The Black Cat”

by Edgar Allan Poe

Originally published in the United States Saturday Post , August 19, 1843

FOR THE MOST WILD, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not -- and very surely do I not dream. But tomorrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified -- have tortured -- have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror -- to many they will seem less terrible than barroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place -- some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and, in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.

I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.

This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she was ever serious  upon this point -- and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered.

Pluto -- this was the cat's name -- was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.

Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and character -- through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance -- had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but illused them. For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through affection, they came in my way. But my disease grew upon me -- for what disease is like Alcohol ! -- and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish -- even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.

One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a penknife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket ! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.

When reason returned with the morning -- when I had slept off the fumes of the night's debauch -- I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.

In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart -- one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not ? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself -- to offer violence to its own nature -- to do wrong for the wrong's sake only -- that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; -- hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; -- hung it because  I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; -- hung it because  I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin -- a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it -- if such a thing were possible -- even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.

On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was aroused from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration. The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.

I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing a chain of facts -- and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect. On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found in a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the action of the fire -- a fact which I attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a particular portion of it with very minute and eager attention. The words "strange!" "singular!" and other similar expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in bas relief  upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat . The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal's neck.

When I first beheld this apparition -- for I could scarcely regard it as less -- my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length reflection came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by the crowd -- by some one of whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window, into my chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me from sleep. The falling of other walls had compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the lime of which, with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, had then accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.

Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my conscience, for the startling fact just detailed, it did not the less fail to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse. I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal, and to look about me, among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented, for another pet of the same species, and of somewhat similar appearance, with which to supply its place.

One night as I sat, half stupified, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat -- a very large one -- fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast.

Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it -- knew nothing of it -- had never seen it before.

I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so; occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my wife.

For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This was just the reverse of what I had anticipated; but -- I know not how or why it was -- its evident fo

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ndness for myself rather disgusted and annoyed. By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose into the bitterness of hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty, preventing me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks, strike, or otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually -- very gradually -- I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently from its odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence.

What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on the morning after I brought it home, that, like Pluto, it also had been deprived of one of its eyes. This circumstance, however, only endeared it to my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree, that humanity of feeling which had once been my distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.

With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity which it would be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk it would get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and sharp claws in my dress, clamber, in this manner, to my breast. At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing, partly by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly -- let me confess it at once -- by absolute dread  of the beast.

This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil -- and yet I should be at a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to own -- yes, even in this felon's cell, I am almost ashamed to own -- that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one of the merest chimæras it would be possible to conceive. My wife had called my attention, more than once, to the character of the mark of white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole visible difference between the strange beast and the one I had destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees -- degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful -- it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name -- and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared -- it was now, I say, the image of a hideous -- of a ghastly thing -- of the GALLOWS! -- oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime -- of Agony and of Death!

And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere Humanity. And a brute beast  -- whose fellow I had contemptuously destroyed -- a brute beast  to work out for me -- for me a man, fashioned in the image of the High God -- so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither by day nor by night knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During the former the creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter, I started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast weight -- an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off -- incumbent eternally upon my heart!

Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates -- the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.

One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat followed me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me headlong, exasperated me to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my wrath, the childish dread which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.

This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I knew that I could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, without the risk of being observed by the neighbors. Many projects entered my mind. At one period I thought of cutting the corpse into minute fragments, and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig a grave for it in the floor of the cellar. Again, I deliberated about casting it in the well in the yard -- about packing it in a box, as if merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and so getting a porter to take it from the house. Finally I hit upon what I considered a far better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall it up in the cellar -- as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up their victims.

For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout with a rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented from hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection, caused by a false chimney, or fireplace, that had been filled up, and made to resemble the rest of the cellar. I made no doubt that I could readily displace the bricks at this point, insert the corpse, and wall the whole up as before, so that no eye could detect any thing suspicious.

And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the body against the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood. Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible precaution, I prepared a plaster which could not be distinguished from the old, and with this I very carefully went over the new brickwork. When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around triumphantly, and said to myself -- "Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain."

My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to death. Had I been able to meet with it, at the moment, there could have been no doubt of its fate; but it appeared that the crafty animal had been alarmed at the violence of my previous anger, and forebore to present itself in my present mood. It is impossible to describe, or to imagine, the deep, the blissful sense of relief which the absence of the detested creature occasioned in my bosom. It did not make its appearance during the night -- and thus for one night at least, since its introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden of murder upon my soul!

The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not. Once again I breathed as a freeman. The monster, in terror, had fled the premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries had been made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had been instituted -- but of course nothing was to be discovered. I looked upon my future felicity as secured.

Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came, very unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded again to make rigorous investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. The officers bade me accompany them in their search. They left no nook or corner unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart was too strong to be restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by way of triumph, and to render doubly sure their assurance of my guiltlessness.

"Gentlemen," I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, "I delight to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this -- this is a very well constructed house." (In the rabid desire to say something easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all.) -- "I may say an excellently  well constructed house. These walls -- are you going, gentlemen? -- these walls are solidly put together;" and here, through the mere phrenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily, with a cane which I held in my hand, upon that very portion of the brickwork behind which stood the corpse of the wife of my bosom.

But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend ! No sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence, than I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! -- by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman -- a howl -- a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the dammed in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.

Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next, a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!

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Copyright © 2014 by Monica Shaughnessy

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Jumping Jackalope Press

Shaughnessy, Monica

The Black Cats / Monica Shaughnessy

eISBN: 978-0-9885629-8-1

Jacket Design: Monica Shaughnessy

Edited by Red Adept

Excerpt from The Tell-Tail Heart, Cattarina Mystery #1


Chapter 1

An Object of Fascination

EDDY WAS NEVER HAPPIER than when he was writing, and I was never happier than when Eddy was happy. That's what concerned me about our trip to Shakey House Tavern tonight. An official letter had arrived days ago, causing him to abandon his writing in a fit of melancholy—a worrisome event for this feline muse. Oh, what power correspondence wields over the Poe household! Since that time, his quill pen had lain lifeless upon his desk, a casualty of the gloom. But refreshment only intensified these frequent and unpredictable storms—hence my concern. Irritated by his lack of attention, I sat beneath the bar and waited for him to stir. He'd been studying a newspaper in the glow of a lard-oil lamp for most of the evening, ignoring the boisterous drinkers around him. When he crinkled the sheets, I leapt onto the polished ledge to investigate, curling my tail around me. I loved the marks humans made upon the page. They reminded me of black ants on the march. They also reminded me that until I found a way to help Eddy, it would be ages before he'd make more of his own.

"A pity you don't read, Cattarina," he said to me in confidence. "Murder has come to Philadelphia again, and it's deliciously disturbing." He tapped a drawing he'd been examining, a horrible likeness of an elderly woman, one eye gouged out, the other rolled back in fear, mouth agape. "Far from the City of Brotherly Love, eh, Catters?"

I trilled at my secret name. Everyone else called me Cattarina, including Josef, Shakey House's stocky barkeep. He'd taken note of me on the bar and approached with bared teeth, an odd greeting I'd grown accustomed to over the years. When one lives with humans, one must accommodate such eccentricities.

"Guten Abend , Cattarina," Josef said to me. His side-whiskers had grown longer since our last visit. They suited his broad face. He reached across the bar and stroked my back with a raw, red hand, sending fur into the smoke circling overhead.

I lay down on Eddy's paper and tucked my feet beneath me, settling in for a good pet. Josef was on the list of people I allowed to touch me. Eddy, of course, held the first spot, followed by Sissy, then Muddy, then Mr. Coffin, and so on and so forth, until we arrived at lucky number ten, Josef Wertmüller. Others had tried; others had bled.

"Tortoiseshell cats are good luck. Yes, Mister Poe?" the barkeep continued.

"I believe they are," Eddy said without looking up. He turned the page and folded it in half so he wouldn't disturb me.

"Such pretty eyes." Josef scratched the ruff of my neck. "Like two gold coins. And fur the color of coffee and tea. I take her for barter any day."

"Would you have me wander the streets alone, sir? Without my fair Cattarina?" Eddy asked, straightening. "Without my muse?"

"Nein ," Josef said, withdrawing his hand, "I would never dream." He took Eddy's empty glass and wiped the water ring with a rag. "Another mint julep. Yes, Mr. Poe?"

At this suggestion, Eddy turned and faced the tavern full of drinkers. A conspiracy of ravens in black coats and hats, the men squawked, pausing to wet their beaks between caws. Eddy called out to them, shouting over their conversation. "Attention! The first to buy me a mint julep may have this newspaper." The bar patrons ignored him. He tried again. "I say, attention! The first to buy—"

"We heard you the first time, Poe," said Hiram Abbott. He sat by himself at his usual table by the door. His cravat had collected more stains since our last visit, some of which matched the color of his teeth. Once the chortling died down, he challenged Eddy. "A newspaper for a drink? I'd hardly call that a fair trade."

"Perhaps for a man who can't read," Eddy said.

Laughter coursed through the room, ripening the apples of Mr. Abbott's cheeks. I longed to understand Eddy the way other humans did, but alas, could not. While I possessed a large vocabulary—a grandiose  vocabulary in catterly circles—I owned neither the tongue nor the ear to communicate with my friend as I would've liked. Yes, I knew the meaning of oft-repeated words: refreshment, writing, check-in-the-mail, damned story, illness, murder, madness, and so forth. But a dizzying number remained beyond reach, causing me to rely on nuance and posture to fill gaps in understanding—like now. Whatever he'd said to Mr. Abbot pricked the man like a cocklebur to the paw.

Eddy continued, "My news is fresh, gentlemen, purchased from the corner not more than an hour ago. The ink was still wet when I bought it."

"You tell a good tale, Poe," said Mr. Murray, a Shakey House regular with a long, drooping mustache, "but I've already learned the day's gossip from Silas and Albert." He jabbed his tablemates with his elbows, spilling their ale.

"I see. Then you and your quilting bee are aware of the latest murder."

Murder  set the ravens squawking again. Josef, however, remained silent. He wrung the bar towel between his hands, blanching his knuckles.

"Speak, Poe!" said Mr. Murray. "You have our attention."

A chorus rose from the crowd. "Speak! Speak!" Mr. Abbott sank lower in his seat.

Eddy shooed me from my makeshift bed, folded the sheets, and waved them above his head. "The Glass Eye Killer has struck again. The Gazette  tells all, in gory detail." His mustache twitched. "And for those of strong stomach…pictures on page twelve."

The portly man who'd kept his shoulder to us most of the evening lunged for the paper, knocking Eddy with his elbow by accident. I returned with a low-pitched growl. The man stepped back, hands raised in surrender, and asked Eddy to "call off the she-devil."

"I will if we can settle this like gentlemen," my friend said.

The man tossed coins on the bar, prompting Josef to deliver a julep and Eddy to calm me with a pat to the head. But I had more mischief in mind. I sprang for the glass, thinking to knock it sideways and end our evening early. Muddy would be expecting us for dinner; she worried so when we caroused. But Eddy's reflexes were still keen enough to prevent the "accident." Disappointed, I hopped to the floor in search of my own refreshment.

Weaving through the forest of legs, I sniffed for a crust of bread, a cheese rind, anything to take the edge off my hunger. If I didn't find something soon, I'd sneak next door to the bakery for a pat of butter before they closed. I could always count on the owner for a scrap or two. Above me, the room returned to its usual cacophony.

"Read! Read!" a man in the back shouted. "Don't keep us waiting!"

Once the tavern settled, the gentleman who'd received Eddy's paper spoke with solemnity. "The Glass Eye Killer has claimed a second victim and a second trophy, striking terror in the hearts of Philadelphians." He paused, continuing with a strained voice. "This afternoon, fifty-two-year-old Eudora Tottham, wife of the Honorable Judge Tottham, was found dead two blocks north of Logan Square. Her throat had been cut, and her eye had been stripped of its prosthesis—a glass orb of excellent quality."

"Mein Gott! " Josef said. "Another!" He left his station at the bar and began wiping tables, all the while muttering about "Caroline." I didn't know what a Caroline  was, but it troubled him.

The reader continued, "Mrs. Beckworth T. Jones discovered the body behind Walsey's Dry Goods, at Wood and Nineteenth, when she took a shortcut home. Why the murderer is amassing a collection of eyes remains a mystery to Constable Harkness. The case is further hindered by lack of witnesses. Until this madman is caught, all persons with prostheses are urged to take special precaution."

I jumped from Hiram Abbott's path as he neared, his strides long and brisk. "Let me see the picture," he said to the portly gentleman. "I want to see the picture on page twelve. I must ."

"I paid for it, sir. Kindly wait your turn."

"Do you know who I am?" Mr. Abbott asked. "I am Hiram Abbott, and I own acres and acres of farmland around these parts."

The portly man faced him, their round bellies almost touching. "Do you know who I  am? Do you know how many coal mines I  own?" he replied.

I yawned. I didn't know either one of them, not really. They jostled over the newspaper, bumping another drinker and pulling him  into the argument. Three pair of shoes danced beneath the bar: dirty working boots, dull patent slip-ons, and shabby evening shoes with a tattered sole. Fiddlesticks. All this over ink and paper. Eddy turned and sipped his drink in peace, ignoring the row.

"Watch it, you clumsy simpleton!" Mr. Abbott yelled.

I wiggled my whiskers and held back an impending sneeze. The men had stirred the dust on the floor, aggravating my allergies.

"Git back to your table, Abbott, or eat my fist!" the man in boots said. Then he struck the bar. I needed no translation.

Nor did Mr. Abbott. He scurried to his seat, his head low.

Now that the entertainment had ended, I returned to my food search and discovered an object more intriguing—a curve of thick white glass—near the heel of Eddy's shoe. It had seemingly appeared from nowhere. My heart beat faster, railing against my ribcage. Bump-bump, bump-bump.  A regular at drinking establishments, I'd found numerous items over the years. A button engraved with a mouse, a snippet of lace that smelled more like a mouse than the button, and the thumb, just the thumb, mind you, of a fur-lined mitten that tasted more like a mouse than the other two. But I'd never found anything of this sort. It reminded me of a clamshell, but smaller.

I sniffed the item. A sharp odor struck my nose, provoking the chain of sneezes I'd staved off earlier. The scent reminded me of the medicine Sissy occasionally took. In retaliation, I batted the half-sphere along the floorboards where it came to rest against the pair of working boots I'd seen earlier. Their owner wore a short, hip-length coat and a flat cap—a countrified costume. Mr. Shakey's alcohol must not have been to his liking, for a flask stuck from the pocket of his coat. "The guv'ment's gonna make the Trans-Allegheny a state one day," he said to the gentleman who'd won Eddy's paper.

"It will never happen," the portly man said. "Not as long as Tyler's in office."

"Tyler?" Eddy whispered. He kept his back to the two, half-aware of their conversation, and spoke to himself. "I should like to work for Tyler's men. I should like to…" He rubbed his face. "Smith said he would appoint me. Promised he would."

The man in boots didn't bother with Eddy. "You'll see," he said to the portly man. "One day we'll split. Then there'll be no more scrapin' and bowin' to Virginia."

"Leave it to a border ruffian to talk politics," he replied.

The man in boots thumbed his nose. "My politics didn't bother you before, Mr. Uppity."

Humans typically followed mister  and miss  with a formal name. I'd learned that from Sissy when she called me Miss Cattarina and from Josef when he addressed Eddy as Mister Poe, pronouncing it meester . Muddy, too, had contributed to my education. Always the proper one, she insisted on calling our neighbors Mister Balderdash and Miss Busybody, though never to their faces. Out of respect, I surmised. At least now I knew the older, fleshier gentleman's name.

"You think we need a Virginia and  a West of Virginia?" Mr. Uppity huffed. "Not hardly."

Weary of their jabber, I hit the lopsided ball again. It spun and ricocheted off Eddy's heel. Then I wiggled my hind end and…pounced! When the object surrendered, I sat back to study its curves. It studied me in return with a sky-colored iris. I thought back to the picture Eddy had showed me in the paper and the word he'd uttered—murder . The rest of the tavern had certainly used up the subject. And while details of the crime hovered beyond my linguistic reach, I knew my toy was connected. If not, some other numskull had lost his eye. Either way, humans were much too cavalier with their body parts.

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