Claws for Alarm
by T. C. Lotempio
GENRE: Cozy mystery
“What’s wrong?” I whispered, even though I knew he couldn’t answer. We stood in silence for a moment, and suddenly, I did hear something. A very faint sound, from far away . . . like a door closing.
“Come on,” I hissed. I lifted my head, sniffed at the air. It smelled pretty stale, but there was another scent, cigarette smoke. I racked my brain, trying to remember if I’d seen either Julia or Samms smoking.
Nick’s tail swished, and he pawed at arrows painted on the ground. He trotted ahead of me at a brisk pace, and I fell into step. We followed the painted arrows along a white-tiled hallway down to a door with a shade pulled all the way down. A sign placed haphazardly in the window proclaimed it CLOSED.
I tried the door, which seemed to be stuck. I looked at the doorframe, which appeared to be less than sturdy, and checked it for alarm wires. Seeing none, I raised my leg and gave the door a swift, hard kick. It clicked open an inch, and I pushed it all the way open. We walked into a tiny office not much bigger than a postage stamp. A large metal desk and battered file cabinet took up the majority of the space. Another door at the far end stood partway open. Nick suddenly tensed, and I saw the hairs on his back rise. His tail fluffed out, and he started to growl, deep in his throat.
I frowned. “What’s wrong? What do you sense?”
Nick reared up on his hind legs and then shot through the partially open door. I had no choice but to follow. The room I now found myself in appeared to be a slightly larger version of the previous office. Nick crouched in front of a large metal desk, and as I entered, he shifted his body slightly. I caught a glimpse of two feet, very still, shod in the pair of eggplant Louboutins I’d admired earlier in the evening.
“Oh crud,” I cried. “Please tell me that’s not what I think it is.” I walked around Nick and peeped around the edge of the desk. I saw a twisted figure in a white raincoat bunched up around shapely legs, a tumble of dark hair covering its face, the neck bent at an unnatural angle.
“Shoot,” I said.
“MA-ROW!” Nick yowled.
I heard a sound behind me as Nick dived under a nearby chair. My heart started to beat wildly in my chest. The last time he’d pulled something like that I’d been caught next to a dead body and hauled off to the police station. His fat rear had barely wiggled out of sight before the door slammed back and I found myself looking first down the barrel of a .45 and then, as I raised my gaze, at the grim, unsmiling face of Detective Leroy Samms. He looked at me, then at the feet, then back to me again. He lowered his arm, slipped his gun back into his shoulder holster. “Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in.”
I responded almost automatically. “He didn’t drag me. I walked in on my own.”
One eyebrow quirked. “Pardon? It’s an expression, Nora.”
“Oh, sure. I knew that.” The queasy sensation in my stomach was getting stronger, and I really felt like gagging. I started to push past Samms, but his strong fingers reached out and encircled my elbow in a grip of steel.
“No need to run off.”
I pressed my palm against my cheek. “I—I’m not. I just felt a little . . . squeamish.”
“Of course you do,” he said, still not cracking a smile. “I’ve got some Pepto back at the station. Fix you right up. Then we’re going to have a chat, you and I.” His grip on my elbow tightened. “Ms. Charles, you’ve got some explaining to do.”
Born in New York City, T. C. LoTempio is the national bestselling author of Meow If It’s Murder, the first in the Nick and Nora Mystery series. She has been a staff reporter at the young adult magazine Susabella Passengers and Friends for more than a decade. When she isn’t reporting or writing novels, she and her cat Rocco fundraise for Nathan Fillion’s charity, Kids Need to Read.
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