Mystery Novelist--Valerie Tate
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The First Dunbarton Mystery -- CATNIP
What can go wrong when an elderly matriarch leaves the family fortune to her cat? Just about everything, including ‘catnapping’ and murder!
‘Finally, what you'll all have gathered to hear, I give, devise, bequeath and appoint my entire estate, including all financial assets, properties and personal possessions to my only true friend and companion, my cat, Marmalade.’
With those words, Amanda Dunbar sets in motion a series of events that will lead her family and Christopher Mallory, the young attorney who finds himself trustee to the cat, into mischief, misadventure and murder!
CATNIP is a mystery set in the picturesque town of Dunbarton, Ontario and tells the story of what befalls the dysfunctional Dunbar family, and the chaos that ensues, when the matriarch of the clan leaves the family fortune to her cat. That formidable feline proves to be more than a match for the humans in his life until one fateful night when, caught unawares, he is stuffed in a sack and carried away. A nosy neighbour with a nasty, suspicious mind points the finger of suspicion at Christopher and the Dunbars and, under the terms of the will, they face losing everything. When a murder occurs Christopher and Alicia Dunbar finds themselves confronting a ruthless killer who would do anything, including kill again, to conceal his/her identity.
CATNIP is about money and the things that people are willing to do to get it. It is about families and the often difficult relationships that you find there. And it is about love.
CATNIP is published by Red Cottage Books and is now available on Amazon.
BOOK TRAILER https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqoCbPcgj8g&feature=youtu.be
“But thousands die without this and that,
Die, and endow a college, or a cat.”
This story should open 'It was a dark and stormy night when the will was read in the country house on the edge of a desolate moor.' But it wasn't. Instead it was a sunny afternoon in a law office in a restored Victorian on the sandy shores of Lake Huron. No dark and disturbing foreshadowing of doom. No Ides of March. No crows flying backwards. No hounds baying at a blood-red moon. Not even a black cat. So much for omens.
I, Amanda Dunbar, widow of Robert Allan Dunbar,
do hereby declare this to be my last will and testament.
Christopher Mallory had met Amanda Dunbar only once - an autocratic old lady with a shrewd expression and an underlying core of steel that showed through in the piercing blue eyes, strength of mouth and jaw, and proud lift of her nose. A lady not to be trifled with.If he had known that meeting would set in motion events that would send him on a tumultuous ride - one that would change his life forever - would he have gone? Not even he could answer that one!
Since, by the time this is read I shall be dead, it will be my final
opportunity to tell my 'loving' family exactly what I think of them.
The old lady had died only two days before, but her daughter-in-law, over-riding the protests of her husband, had insisted that the reading directly follow the interment.
For the past twenty-six years the four of us have lived
together in my house to the great discomfort of us all.
That I have chosen to tolerate the chronic irritability
of my daughter-in-law, the infuriating ineptitude of my son,
and the vague placidity of my grand-daughter is as much
a wonder to myself as anyone.
None of the family had been present at his meeting with his client in the large Victorian house in a once fashionable part of town. She had seen to it that they had been absent, unwilling for any but themselves to know of her intentions. It was with some curiosity and a little trepidation therefore, that he had anticipated the meeting in his office that day.
Alice Mayhew Dunbar sailed into the office at precisely 2:00 with the assurance of the flagship of the fleet - handsome, (Had the expression on her face and the look in her eyes been different, one might even have said, beautiful.) well-preserved, and about as warm as a Huron January. There was an air about her of barely-controlled anticipation, a gleam in her Ice Queen eyes that said she was about to get everything she had been waiting for, exactly what she deserved. If she grieved, she hid it well.
In her wake trailed her husband, James Allen Dunbar, a man of average height who appeared, following his assertive wife, smaller than he actually was. His hair that had once been black, thick and wavy, was now silver at the temples. He should have been a striking man but with his air of patient melancholy he seemed to fade into the wallpaper beside his more flamboyant spouse. There was little resemblance to his strong-minded mother.
And then there was Alicia. She drifted in behind her parents, gazed around her with a disinterested air, then melted gracefully into a chair by the wall and waited. Her hair was the first thing he noticed - a pale gold cloud that caressed her ivory face like a kiss. But then she looked at him and... 'Atlas Shrugged'!
Her eyes were a pair of exquisitely matched turquoises - a rare blue-green flecked with gold - large and dreamy. Cat's eyes...witch's eyes... enchantment! Fringed with dark, smudgy lashes, they were set in the perfect oval of her face under brows that arched like wings in flight. She was the stuff of fantasy, of fairy tales, of chivalric stories, the stuff of dreams and dreamers. Her grandmother had described her as a Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince to come and awaken her, but he couldn't help hoping that behind those dreamy, turquoise eyes was more than just a fairy tale.
With that off my chest, I feel free now to make the
To my daughter-in-law, Alice, I bequeath two gallons of
vinegar, in hopes that it will sweeten her disposition.
To my son, James, who was the joy of my life until he
married that woman, I bequeath a can of starch to be used
to stiffen a backbone that hasn't stood firm for the past twenty-
To my grand-daughter, Alicia, I bequeath my jewellery in the
hope that one day she may prick her finger and awaken
from that perennial slumber she now enjoys.
There was an open-mouthed silence when he'd finished and he waited for the explosion he was sure would come. He was not disappointed.
"Well of all the...!" Alice Dunbar, who had initially gone very white, was purple now, with rage. "That old witch... She made our lives a living hell for almost thirty years and now this... this... this outrage! My God, when I think of how I waited on her. Vinegar indeed! Twenty-six years of that harridan's bad-tempered.....!" Fury momentarily deprived her of speech (Could she be on the verge of a stroke?) and her husband was finally able to get a word in.
"Alice, don't!" James’ eyes pleaded for understanding. "She was always very good to us, or tried to be. It was just her way, her values." There was a world of weariness in his voice and a lifetime of failure in his eyes.
"For God's sake, James! You know how she treated us. She could have helped you out but she didn’t. Just because she couldn't forgive you for marrying against her wishes. For marrying me." It was as if she'd forgotten there was anyone else in the room. "You know you've worked your fingers to the bone for that company. For her. For your father. And always in his shadow. Never your own man."
James, looking ill, sank even deeper into his chair.
The lawyer glanced over at Alicia, but she seemed as indifferent as ever, as if neither the contents of the will, nor her mother's outburst concerned her at all. "A sleep-walker through life" her grandmother had said.
"Mr. Mallory!" Mrs. Dunbar drew him back to the matter at hand. "What do you have to say about this ridiculous state of affairs?"
"If you'll allow me, I'll get on with the reading and I think things will become quite clear."
She nodded irritably.
"At this point it becomes necessary to bring in a fourth beneficiary." Ignoring outraged gasps of protest from Alice, he pressed the intercom button. "Miss Scott, would you please bring in our client." Then he sat back to watch what was going to happen next.
Suzanne entered slowly and in her arms she carried a large, orange cat. There was a wheeze from Alice Dunbar, like the sound of air slowly exiting a balloon. She darted a suspicious glance from the cat, to him, and back again. As for the cat, he spat furiously at the woman, scratched the secretary who promptly dropped him, and proceeded to strop himself against Alicia's leg. The latter smiled gently, stroked his head, and then turned a quizzical look at him.
"Would you put Marmalade on my desk please, Miss Dunbar? Thank you."
She gathered the now contented cat in her arms and moved with languorous grace towards the desk, while Marmalade peacefully batted a strand of hair that hung before his face. When placed on the desk he settled himself comfortably on a pile of briefs and then proceeded to wash his already immaculate face.
He was a long-haired cat the colour of orange marmalade, hence the name, with a silky white stripe starting below his chin and running down his stomach. He had a sassy, self-satisfied triangle of a face, with one ear crooked roguishly forward. His eyes were brilliant green almonds balanced over a small pug nose. All in all he had an air of being totally in command of the situation which, as things were about to become apparent, he was.
Finally, what you'll all have gathered to hear,
I give, devise, bequeath and appoint my entire estate,
including all financial assets, properties and personal possessions,
to my only true friend and companion, my cat, Marmalade.
Furthermore, since I know my family only too well,
should anything happen to Marmalade that even suggests foul
play on the part of or at the instigation of my family, the estate
then goes to the Animal Protection Society to be used to take care of
creatures who are unable to care for themselves.
However, whenever he does pass away from natural causes,
the estate will revert to the only member of my family
that I have any use for, my grand-daughter, Alicia.
Until that time I appoint Christopher Mallory of the firm Henderson,
Jukes, Conroy, and Mallory as executor of my estate and trustee for
Marmalade. He will administer all finances. My son and his wife
are free to continue living in the house provided that they care for
Marmalade. Mallory will pay all household bills and provide
James, Alice and Alicia with a monthly allowance to be worked out
with Mr. Mallory, the sum to be subject to cost-of-living increases.
If at any time it is determined that any of them has mistreated
Marmalade in any way, the allowance will cease and they
will be asked to leave the house. Should this happen, a companion
for Marmalade will be employed.
One last word, family. Be warned! I have filled Mr. Mallory in on the
exact details of our household and family relations.
He knows it all. So perhaps I've had the last laugh after all!