Care’s reputation as a private investigator is growing and clients are beating a path to her door. An elderly woman seeks Care’s help in finding out what happened to her brother. Blackie senses he’s met this woman before, sometime before he became a cat. But who is she – and what is their connection? At the same time, a dockworker asks Care to find a colleague who’s gone missing, and the investigation takes a disturbing new twist . .
Private investigator Care is riding on the wave of success, but is she about to come crashing off? There are twists and turns aplenty in this absorbing new mystery featuring our favourite feline, Blackie! Check out this extract from the start of the novel . . .
Something is amiss. I can feel it in my guard hairs. In my whiskers, flared to catch the slightest vibration. Something has gone wrong.
I wake with a start, blinking as I take in the scene before me. A rundown office, its only furnishings a torn sofa, a battered desk, and two bookshelves, nearly bare of books. A girl sits at the desk, scratching away with a pen. A young woman, really, curves beginning to soften her spare frame. No, there is nothing to be feared here. Nothing is out of place. Nothing has changed since I lay down to rest, only moments before. It was a dream that woke me. A recurring nightmare of three shadows – men – who loom, waiting, as I sink into oblivion. Into death. But they are not here. We are alone, the girl and I, and my eyes begin to close once more.
Then – a silhouette. A visitor stands in the doorway. It is her arrival, her gentle knock on the door, that must have woken me, but she is no nightmare figure, nothing like the ghouls who haunt my sleep. She is female, frail. A skinny thing in rags who rushes forward, oblivious of me, seated here and watching.
‘Thank you.’ The woman is sobbing, she’s so grateful. Grabs the girl’s hand between her two bony ones, as if to press home her words. As if they were in a throne room instead of this spare chamber, two flights up. ‘I can’t begin to . . .’ She breaks off to breathe, her wide eyes more eloquent than her words. ‘Thank you so much.’
‘It’s nothing,’ the girl – Care – responds, as my own ears pitch forward at the echo. As if unconsciously aware, she catches herself and corrects, her voice mature for her years. ‘You’re welcome, I mean. It is what I do. I find things. Do the needful. Locate that which is lost. Right the wrongs, the ones I can.’
I hear her words and relax. This is her creed, inherited from her mentor, which she’s reciting now. The words rote, but memorable, explaining her profession to the world in a way that will be understood and repeated. That will be shared with others. For it is her trade that has brought this woman here, in recognition of a task completed.
‘You did! You found him.’ The woman’s acknowledgment confirms my memory. She wipes her tears with one hand, still holding Care’s with her other. ‘I had thought that he was lost.’
Releasing the girl at last, she rummages through her garment, locating a pocket hidden in the oversize skirt’s ragged folds.
‘No, really.’ The girl holds up her hands. ‘It’s not necessary.’
She means what she says, the demurral in her tone as well as gesture. Even my casual appraisal sees the truth. Care has, at this point, more than the poor woman who stands before her, and her concerns, for the moment, do not involve either sustenance or shelter. But her words are to no avail, and when the woman finally fishes out the coin, its edges chipped away, the girl accepts it, as she would a grand prize. The woman’s dignity is at stake and is more to be valued than this one degraded coin. Although her senses are not acute as mine, even the girl can see how solemn the woman appears as she hands the penny over. How sincere.
‘My boy would have been lost without you,’ she says, her voice calmer now. Hushed. ‘He would have been taken – shipped to the islands, or worse.’
Care nods. There is nothing left to say. She did rescue the boy, who had been taken, press-ganged into service, completing the job for which she was hired, as she has now several times since I have come to join her. But even as the woman turns to go, her departure marked by more tears and pronouncements of gratitude, the girl stays silent. Something weighs on her, I see. Some burden not alleviated by the retrieval of one small child.
I watch her, and I wait.
CROSS MY PATH is out now in the UK and 1 July in the US. Find out more about this title and the Blackie and Care mystery series here.