Murder Faux Paws: A Nick and Nora Mystery
by T. C. LoTempio
About Murder Faux Paws
Murder Faux Paws: A Nick and Nora Mystery
5th in Series
Setting – California
Beyond the Page (February 22, 2022)
Print length : 273 pages
Digital ASIN : B09Q6HDGF9
Dead men tell no tales, but in the riveting new Nick and Nora Mystery, they sure leave a lot of clues . . .
When a local PI’s untimely death is ruled a suicide by the police, budding sleuth Nora Charles has no intention of letting sleeping dogs lie—or sleeping cats, for that matter. Certain it was a case of foul play, Nora rouses her trusty sidekick Nick and launches an investigation of her own. Then a second PI is murdered, and Nora knows the two men were on to something—and that she’s on to something too.
Following the enigmatic clues left by her late predecessors, Nora soon uncovers a plot that involves a local politician, missing campaign funds, and what could be a bogus real estate deal. But when hints of treason surface, what started as small-time thievery soon balloons into a matter of national security. With the uncanny Nick sniffing out—and spelling out—leads, Nora follows a trail that will take her to the heart of a shadowy conspiracy, and into a trap set by a conniving culprit that will have her wishing she had Nick’s nine lives . . .
What’s the matter, Red? Got something on your mind?”
I flushed at the nickname, one that Leroy Samms had bestowed on me back in college, where we’d first met. Sparks had flown between us, but we were on the verge of graduation and headed in different directions with our lives. It rankled me that ever since we’d reconnected, that spark still seemed to be there, at least on my end. As for Samms, well, he’d always been a hard one to read. I tried not to notice how the knit sweater beneath his leather jacket molded to his body like a second skin, or how one inky curl fell casually across his broad forehead as I bit out, “I do. Not that it’s any of your concern.”
He shot me a maddening grin, displaying not only his dimples but his perfect set of white teeth. “What’s the matter? PI school not going well? You know, if you can stick it out you might actually learn something. Maybe that cat of yours should have taken the course too, seeing as he’s always on the scene. I don’t know which of you is a worse body magnet.”
We both looked down. Nick squatted beside my feet, his head tilted to one side. He fixed us both with what I assumed was the cat equivalent of an annoyed stare.
I placed a hand on each hip and said sternly, “Nick! What are you doing out here?”
Samms made a big show of looking up and down the street, then glanced at Nick. “Sorry, pal, your radar is off today. No bodies as far as I can see.”
I bent down and gathered all twenty-plus pounds of Nick up in my arms and quickened my steps to the Poker Face’s entrance. Samms beat me there with two long strides and pushed open the door, making a low bow as he did so. “Allow me.” He actually had the temerity to look amused as I swept past, Nick’s legs dangling at an awkward angle. As I approached the booth I noticed that only Ollie remained. He cast a curious glance Samms’s way as I set Nick down on the bench, then turned to me. “Everything okay?”
I let my lips stretch in a wide smile. “Couldn’t be better. Just peachy.”
He gave me a hard stare, then said, “Chantal got a text from Remy and had to leave. Louis had to go too. So that leaves just . . . us.” He transferred his stare to Samms.
I slid into my seat and pulled my sandwich plate in front of me. Samms nodded at the other empty seats. “I was going to go to the diner for a quick bite, but that sandwich looks pretty good. Mind if I join you?”
Ollie and I both answered at the same time. The men exchanged curt nods and then Samms slid onto the bench directly opposite me. He pointed to my sandwich. “Say, that really does look good. Jose must be improving.”
I glowered at him. “Jose didn’t make it.”
“Oh? Might be worth a try, then.” Jose himself chose that moment to walk through the kitchen door. Samms held up his hand, motioned him over.
“I’ll have a Bud on tap, and one of those.” He pointed to my sandwich.
Jose nodded and moved off. I scowled at Samms. “There may not be any roast beef left. We did a pretty good job demolishing it.”
“No matter,” he said cheerfully. “Worst-case scenario I’ll just head over to the diner after I finish my beer. Tonight’s the meat loaf special, and Doris does whip up a mean meat loaf. She usually sets some aside for me every Tuesday but”—he let out a sigh—“after next week that’ll all change.”
My head snapped up. “Next week? What happens next week?”
He raised his hand and did a casual inspection of his fingers. “I finally get sprung from active duty here.”
My eyes widened. “You mean the mayor finally hired a new chief?”
“Yep. My replacement is scheduled to arrive Monday.” His bottom lip twitched as he stole a glance at me. “Try not to miss me too much, will you?”
“No problem there. I’ll have to remember to send Daniel a sympathy card, now that he’ll have to contend with you day in and day out.”
“FYI, sweetheart, your boyfriend is happy to finally have me on board. And believe it or not, I’ll miss working with the guys at Cruz.” He leaned forward and placed one hand over his heart. “You know, you could sound a little disappointed, Red, after all we’ve been through together, meant to each other.”
Nick lifted his head, looked straight at Samms, and made a little mewling sound, deep in his throat. He lifted his paw and placed it on top of Samms’s hand.
Samms burst out laughing and jerked his thumb at Nick. “Well, what do you know. Looks like your cat will miss me.”
I glared at Nick. Nick removed his paw from Samms’s hand. “Too late, you turncoat,” I hissed. “Thanks a lot.”
Nick stretched out and put his paws over his eyes.
“He looks as if he’s put on a few pounds,” Samms observed. “But I guess he’s got to eat well to keep his strength up. Finding dead bodies can take a lot out of you.”
My lips thinned. “Do you ever get tired of harping on that?”
He shot me a lazy grin. “That depends. Do you ever get tired of finding them?”
“Er-ewl,” Nick warbled. He jabbed his paw at the velvet pouch on the table.
I looked at him. “Oh, so you weren’t getting all misty-eyed over Samms’s departure, were you? You want your favorite toy.”
I snatched up the Scrabble pouch and shook it. Nick laid one paw on my knee and reached up to swat at the pouch with the other. I undid the top and spilled a few of the tiles out onto the floor beneath the table. The cat let out a rumbling purr, then hopped down and wiggled his rotund body underneath the table. A few minutes later we could hear the tiles being batted back and forth. Samms looked at me and didn’t even try to hide the grin that split his face from ear to ear.
“Well, he certainly does seem to like those tiles. Now, those words he spells out, they are PG, right?”
I made a sound somewhere between a hiss and a grunt then snatched up my sandwich, took a large bite, and then dropped it back on the plate. “Damn, it’s cold.”
“That’s because you’ve been doing more talking than chewing,” Samms pointed out. “I’m sure Lance would be glad to heat it up for you. Want me to go over to the bar and ask?”
I was just about to tell Samms exactly where he could go—and it definitely wasn’t the bar—but Jose came over just then with his beer. As he set the frosted mug in front of him, Samms reached over and picked up my plate. “Would you mind heating this up for the lady? It seems to have gotten a bit cold.”
Jose took the plate and shuffled off toward the kitchen. I glared at Samms. “I could have asked him myself, you know.”
Samms spread his hands. “Hey, just trying to be a gentleman. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, you know, what with running Hot Bread and taking that PI course.”
Ollie cleared his throat. “Speaking of that, Claymore Jarvis was Nora’s instructor tonight,” he said. “Remember him?”
Samms let out a snort. “Jarvis, huh? Well, I’m glad to see he’s doing something constructive for a change.”
I eyed him. “I take it you don’t agree with his theory about Whip Jennings?”
Samms’s eyes widened. “How did you . . . did Jarvis bring it up?” At my nod, he frowned. “So he’s still beating that dead horse, eh? Look.” He started to tick off on his fingers. “The murder weapon was found in Whip’s hand, and there was a note on the desk. As for that big case”—he made air quotes around the last two words—“no one knows anything about it. Whip only kept notes in his head. The only other person who might know anything would be Whip’s admin slash girlfriend, and she didn’t want to get involved, which I personally think was a wise decision.” His hand shot out, covered mine. “I don’t know what Jarvis said to you about all this, but trust me, it’s most likely a waste of time.”
“How kind of you,” I said icily, “to tell me just how I should spend my time, but as you well know, I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions.”
Samms’s pocket suddenly started to play “Music of the Night,” one of my favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite musicals. I gave him a pointed look. “You’re a Phantom fan?”
“Oh, yeah. Anything Andrew Lloyd Weber, really, but I’ve a particular soft spot for the man behind the mask.” He whipped out his phone, glanced at the number, and stood up. “Looks like I’ll have to take that sandwich to go.” He tossed Ollie and me a laconic grin. “It’s been a pleasure.”
I sighed. “It is getting late. I may as well tell Jose to wrap my sandwich too.”
A black paw snaked out from underneath the table just then, pushing a brown tile. The paw snapped back underneath the table, repeating the action two more times. When a few minutes passed and no paw and no more tiles appeared, Samms leaned over and picked them up. He laid them on the table in front of me. There were two Ss and an I. I glanced down as a furry black and white face poked out from underneath the tablecloth. “I think you forgot a letter, pal. An H would have spelled hiss. Although . . .” I moved the I in between the two Ss. Sis. “These letters make sense too,” I told the cat. “Although, if you really wanted to show off, you could have picked a more difficult word.”
“Oh, cut the little fellow a break,” Samms said and chuckled. “The cat’s probably tired. After all, it takes a lot of energy—”
I held up my hand. “Don’t say it,” I said. “Please, please, don’t say it.”
Samms let out a low chuckle and he and Ollie moved off toward the bar. I got down on my hands and knees and started scooping up the Scrabble tiles. Nick watched what I did intently, head cocked, paws tucked underneath him.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got them all,” I said, scooping up the last tile and dropping it into the velvet pouch. I rocked back on my heels and looked at the cat. “By the way, what’s with the solidarity thing between you and Samms? Are you really going to miss him?”
The cat’s shoulders rolled a bit, almost like a shrug. “That’s what I thought.” I slid onto the bench and laid the Scrabble pouch on the table. “It did sound like he was sticking up for you a bit, though. Imagine that.” I sighed. “At least one of us is winning him over.”
His golden eyes narrowed and the corners of his lips tipped up a bit, in a sort of pleased expression. It seemed, as always, as if he listened to and understood every word spoken.
Ollie walked over, paper bag clutched in one hand. As he set it down in front of me, I glanced casually over at the bar.
“Don’t worry,” Ollie said. “Your friend left.”
“Watch who you call my friend,” I muttered. “He certainly made it sound like looking into Whip’s death would be a gigantic waste of time. I, on the other hand, agree with Louis. It might make a very interesting article for Noir.”
Ollie pressed the bag into my hands. “If you feel you want to poke around a bit, I wouldn’t let Samms discourage you.” Ollie smiled and patted my hand. “If anyone can uncover anything new about Whip’s death, it’s you.”
He left me in front of the bar and Nick and I walked across the street to where I’d parked my SUV. A few minutes later we were on our way home, Nick riding shotgun, sprawled full-length across the passenger seat.
“So what do you think, Nick? I’m positive something’s up between Ruby and Jarvis, I’m just not certain what that connection is. I’m also positive that was her peering in the Poker Face’s window. I wonder why.” I’m sure most people would think I was nuts, talking to my cat as if he could answer me, but in my defense, Nick is no ordinary cat.
Nick let out a resounding, “Merow.”
“She could have been looking for me, right? Maybe she saw me too, at the school, and followed me because . . . well, maybe because she wants my help too, like Jarvis. Maybe she wants me to help prove Whip was murdered. I confess, that case got my attention. I mean, it just seems a little too pat to be suicide, doncha think?”
When I received no answering meow or purr, I glanced over at Nick. He was sitting up again, his tail straight up, his face pressed against the window. His body seemed taut, as if he were getting ready to attack. I put a hand out and rubbed his soft fur.
“I’m going to look into this, all right, if for nothing else just to satisfy my own curiosity—but I think tonight all I want to do is finish this sandwich, take a hot bath, and tumble into bed. Sound good?”
Nick swiveled his head to look at me. He drew back his lips, hissed, then his paw shot out and his claws scraped against the window. “Ma-rowl!”
“Goodness, Nick. What is wrong with you tonight?”
I got my answer as I made the turn onto my street. A beat-up Ford Mustang with California plates occupied the spot to the left of my driveway.
I knew that car. I’d been emailed enough photos of it, even ridden in it on my last trip to Carmel. It belonged to my sister, Lacey.
As usual, Nick’s choice of tiles hadn’t been random. All thoughts of Jarvis, Whip and Ruby flew straight out of my head, replaced by a sinking feeling.
This couldn’t be good.
About T.C. LoTempio
T.C. Lotempio is the national bestselling author of the Nick and Nora mystery series, as well as the Pet Shop Mystery Series and the Cat Rescue mysteries. She lives in sunny Phoenix Arizona along with her two cats, Maxx and ROCCO, who is a talented blogger himself. Cat-ch up with them at her website, tclotempio.net, or ROCCO’s blog, www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com
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