Requiem for a Mouse

Author Miranda James On Tour
Hardcover
$29.00 US
| $39.00 CAN
On sale Jun 25, 2024 | 288 Pages | 978-0-593-19952-7
Librarian Charlie Harris and his ever-intuitive feline friend Diesel must catch a killer in a deadly game of cat and mouse where no one is who they seem to be...

At last, Charlie and Helen Louise’s wedding is only a month away. They’re busy preparing for the big day, and the last thing Charlie needs is a new mystery to solve. Enter Tara Martin, a shy, peculiar woman who has recently started working part-time at Helen Louise’s bistro and helping Charlie in the archive. Tara isn’t exactly friendly and she has an angry outburst at the library that leaves Charlie baffled. And then she abruptly leaves a catered housewarming party Charlie’s son Sean is throwing to celebrate his new home in the middle of her work shift. Before ducking out of the party, Tara looked terrified and Charlie wonders if she’s deliberately trying to escape notice. Is she hiding from someone?

When Tara is viciously attacked and lands in the hospital, Charlie knows his instincts were correct: Tara was in trouble and someone was after her. With the help of his much beloved cat, Diesel, Charlie digs deeper, and discovers shocking glimpses into Tara’s past that they could never have predicted. Will they catch the villain before Charlie’s own happily ever after with Helen Louise is ruined?
One

I felt the delicate touch of a tongue in my ear. At the same time a warm, furry body nestled against my head. I suppressed a groan as I detached the cat and set him aside on the bed.

"Thank you for your kiss," I said to the affectionate Ramses, the younger of my two felines. I threw off the covers and sat up. Ramses rubbed against my side and offered a plaintive meow.

A glance at the clock showed me that I had overslept. I must have forgotten to set my alarm last night. It was nearly seven o'clock, and normally on a workday I was up at six.

"Where's Diesel?" I looked at Ramses as if he could tell me the whereabouts of my Maine Coon cat. Ramses meowed again, a mournful sound. "Well, if you're that hungry, you should have gone downstairs with Diesel and found something to eat. I have to hurry."

Ramses jumped off the bed and disappeared through the slightly ajar bedroom door into the hall. I went into the bathroom, disrobed, and turned on the shower.

Twenty minutes later I entered the kitchen. Diesel, the Maine Coon, greeted me with a warble. Azalea Berry, the formidable septuagenarian who ran my household like a well-oiled machine, stood at the stove. Without turning, she said, "I guess that little scamp woke you up like I told him to."

"Yes, he did. I forgot to set my alarm last night." I took my usual place at the kitchen table. Azalea set a plate in front of me. Scrambled eggs; two sausage patties; a large spoonful of her thick, cheesy grits; and two pieces of buttered wheat toast lay before me. I picked up my fork and started eating. Azalea poured a cup of coffee. I felt completely spoiled, but Azalea resisted any attempts on my part to cut back on breakfast. She insisted it was the most important meal of the day, and I couldn't argue with her.

Besides, as I had often admitted to myself, I loved her breakfast meals. I really didn't want to miss one. I would rather have had breakfast than any other meal. The fact that she generally prepared lunch and dinner as well during the week was another matter entirely.

"How's that new girl at the library working out?" Azalea remained in place at the stove, but she had turned to regard me with approval as I ate.

"She's a good worker," I said after I swallowed a mouthful of grits. "Odd, though. I really can't get hold of her personality. She blurts out things without thinking, and they're usually not particularly tactful." I had to suppress a laugh. "The first day she worked, she told Melba she thought the green dress she had on made her look like a cucumber." Melba Gilley, my friend since childhood, was the administrative assistant to the Athena College library director.

"My goodness," Azalea said, taken aback. "I don't see that going over well."

"It didn't." Melba's expression could have curdled milk. "She told Tara that she loved cucumbers, turned on her heel, and left the room." I explained that Tara Martin was the young woman's name. "Tara didn't appear to realize she had said anything wrong. Melba's tone apparently didn't register with her."

"She said anything like that to you?" Azalea asked, her eyes narrowing.

"Several times," I replied, "but never anything really unpleasant." Her remark about my puffing a little as we reached the top of the stairs at work had nettled me a bit. I didn't feel in the least like a tired steam engine. I shared that with Azalea.

"That child needs to learn some manners." She turned back to the stove.

"She needs to learn not to blurt things out," I said after a bite of toast. "She can think what she likes, but her lack of tact puts people's backs up. The thing is, she doesn't seem to realize what she's done."

"She tries much more of that with Melba, she'll learn." Azalea dished up another breakfast plate and set it on the table across from me. She had apparently heard someone coming downstairs. I had been too intent on my eating to notice.

"Good morning, Charlie, Azalea. Boys." Stewart Delacorte, my longtime boarder, flashed his attractive smile at us as he swept into the room. "Azalea, you're a marvel. I didn't think I made that much noise coming down the stairs." He indicated his plate.

"My hearing's as sharp as it ever was." Azalea fixed him with her gimlet gaze, and Stewart grinned broadly.

"Of course," he said as he dug into his grits.

Azalea poured coffee in his cup, and he added cream to it. "I'm not as old and decrepit as some people like to think."

I noticed a certain heat in her words, and I wondered who had dared imply something like that. After a moment's reflection, I decided it must have been her daughter, chief deputy of the Athena County Sheriff's Department.

Stewart, braver than I was when it came to teasing Azalea, promptly said, "Is Kanesha out of the hospital yet?"

Azalea snorted. "She's lucky she didn't end up there." She threw a towel down on the counter and marched out of the room. She came right back, however, and set a plate of bacon on the table. She had cooked that for Diesel and Ramses, mostly. Then she disappeared again.

Stewart and I exchanged amused glances. Kanesha Berry had been trying for years to get her mother to retire. Kanesha didn't like the thought of her mother still working in her seventies, but Azalea was even more strong-minded than her daughter. Azalea had taken care of my aunt Dottie in her declining years. After I inherited the house, Azalea informed me that she intended to keep taking care of the house-and me-until the day she no longer could. I didn't argue, because she intimidated me. Not so much as she used to, but I didn't dare cross her, and she knew it.

"I guess Haskell is already up and at work," I said, referring to Stewart's partner, a sheriff's deputy, who shared the suite on the third floor of the house.

Stewart nodded and swallowed. "He had to be at work at seven. I'm hoping that nothing happens to cause him to have to work late. We don't want to miss the big shindig out at the farmhouse tonight."

"For both your sakes, I hope nothing interferes with your plans." I had been doling out bites of bacon to the cats, and in between I managed to gulp down the rest of my breakfast. I was going to be a few minutes late to the office.

I got up from the table and set my empty plate in the sink. After swallowing the last of my coffee, I told Diesel it was time for work. He accompanied me almost everywhere, and he loved going to the office. He knew Melba would be there, and he adored her. She lavished affection on him every time she saw him, even multiple times a day. We bade Stewart and Ramses goodbye and left the kitchen.

The mid-January day was chilly and overcast, so I decided that we would take the car today instead of walking the short distance to the Athena College campus as we did in more comfortable weather. Stewart kept Ramses occupied with bits of bacon while we sneaked out the back door into the garage. Diesel hopped into the backseat of the car, and soon we arrived at the old antebellum mansion that held the library's administrative offices and the archives and rare-book collection. I worked three days a week as archivist and rare-book cataloger, a job I thoroughly enjoyed.

Diesel and I entered the building through the back door, and he ambled ahead of me to Melba's office. I caught up with him, and he turned to me, meowing in disappointment. Melba wasn't there.

"Come on, boy. We'll catch her later." I started up the stairs, and he trotted quickly ahead. I glanced at my watch. We had arrived only seven minutes late.

Tara Martin stood at the door. She flashed a quick scowl at me before averting her face as she usually did. She rarely looked directly at me. "Now I can't put in my full two hours," she said before I could greet her and apologize for arriving late. "I can't stay to make up the time, either, because I need to get to the bistro to help get ready for lunch."

Suppressing the irritation I felt at her abrupt tone, I said, "I'm sorry we're late. I'll see that you don't lose your time because I overslept this morning." I pulled out my keys, inserted the correct one, and unlocked the door. Diesel paid no attention to Tara and scooted into the office. He made a beeline for his usual spot in the window ledge behind my desk.

Tara made no response to my remark as I flipped the light switches to illuminate the office that contained my desk, a desk for another worker, and shelves containing a small part of the rare-book collection. The rest of the books resided on shelves in other rooms, along with the archives, here on the second floor of the old mansion.

Tara marched straight to her desk, set her bag and her backpack down on the floor beside her chair, and removed her coat, a rather shabby trench coat at least an inch too long for her short, squat body. I could see streaks of dirt and mud along the hem.

I took my place at my desk, shedding my jacket onto the back of my chair. I woke my computer, wondering whether Tara would remain in a huff or deign to speak to me. After all, I had offered an apology.

"Thank you," she said as she approached my desk. "I appreciate it, especially since it's your responsibility to be here and unlock the door."

"Yes, it is." I kept my tone even, though her graceless words annoyed me further. She could easily have stopped at appreciate it, but that wasn't her style.

Diesel meowed suddenly, but Tara paid no attention. By now I had a full view of her clothing that her coat had concealed. Today she was wearing wrinkled drab-brown leggings, the rusty-looking black skirt, and the dowdy, slightly stained gray shirt. This was the worst I had seen her appearance yet, and I felt sorry for her. Evidently most of her clothing was old and without much style. She wouldn't be able to work in the main library looking like this. Even student workers had to be better dressed. I supposed she couldn't afford new clothes, despite her part-time job here and her part-time work at the French bistro of my soon-to-be wife, Helen Louise Brady.

The important thing was that she was a good worker, adept enough at the computer for the tasks I set her, and a remarkably accurate typist. She had been working for me for only a couple of weeks now, but I had quickly been impressed by her work ethic. For that I was willing to put up with her personal quirks, chiefly her tactlessness. I didn't know her well enough to try to coach her out of it, but if she was to work for me on an ongoing basis, I had little doubt I would give in to temptation to talk to her about it. If I didn't, I figured either Helen Louise or her partner at the bistro, Henry Hollister, probably would. They couldn't afford to let Tara alienate customers.

When I made no further comment, Tara settled at her desk and readied herself to continue her current task. The first week of December, the archive received a large donation of books from an alumna of the college, amounting to twenty-three good-sized boxes. Since it was politic to accept such gifts, particularly, as with this one, when they came with substantial donations to the college, I had no choice but to inventory the collection. We reserved the right to dispose of any items not suitable to our rare-book collection, especially if there were duplicates of titles we already owned.

Tara, who had proved adept with spreadsheets, was going through each box, checking every book for damage, such as mold, mildew, or stains, along with unstable hinges. She recorded author, title, publication information, and condition for each title. She had also numbered each box and included the box number for each book. Later, when the collection had been completely entered into the spreadsheet, I would check for duplicates against the items already cataloged. At some point afterward, I would begin cataloging the items selected for inclusion. I had quite a large quantity of books from other donors that had to be dealt with first, however, so it might be a year or more before I could accession any of these. Unless, of course, someone higher up decided this collection should take priority.

We worked quietly for a good quarter of an hour before a loud, jarring ringtone disturbed me. I looked up to see Tara grabbing her cell phone from beside her computer. She muttered, "Excuse me," before she hurried out of the office into the hallway.

She neglected to close the door behind her, however, and at first all I heard was the murmur of her voice. Then suddenly her volume increased, and I heard her clearly.

"I told you, I don't know who you think you're calling, I never heard that name." Then, seconds later, I heard a loud crunching sound.

Tara came back into the office, her shattered phone in her hand.

Two

She looked at me, a ferocious glint in her eye, as if she dared me to speak to her. She shoved the remains of her phone in her backpack and resumed her seat at the desk. Then I heard the tapping of the keys as she continued her work.

That was an extreme reaction to a wrong number, I thought. Was she mentally unstable? I hadn't witnessed such an outburst from her, if I could call it that, in the brief time I'd worked with her. I wanted to ask whether she was okay, but after studying her body language for a moment, I decided the better course of action was to ignore the episode.

I felt a paw on my shoulder and turned to see Diesel staring at me from the window next to my chair. He meowed softly, and I patted his head to reassure him. He always picked up on tension, and even I could feel it emanating from Tara in the aftermath of her destruction of her phone.

Diesel pushed his head against my head briefly before settling back into his resting position in the window. I turned back to my computer and tried to focus on my work. Thoughts of the odd behavior of my assistant continued to intrude, however, and I finally decided that I would talk to Helen Louise about it. I wondered whether Tara had done anything weird like this while working at the bistro. She might have been more likely to confide in Helen Louise if she was worried about something.
PRAISE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING CAT IN THE STACKS MYSTERIES

“Let us now praise the cozy mystery, so comforting on dark days, so warming on chilly nights—the literary equivalent of a cat.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Courtly librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are an endearing detective duo. Warm, charming, and Southern as the tastiest grits.”—Carolyn Hart, New York Times bestselling author of the Death on Demand Mysteries

“Ideal for Christie fans who enjoy a good puzzle.”—Library Journal

“A pleasing blend of crime and charm.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“All my must-haves for a cozy mystery read: engaging story line, interesting and spunky characters . . . and a charming pet.”—Open Book Society

“Combines a kindhearted librarian hero . . . a sleepy Southern town, and a gentle giant of a cat that will steal your heart.”—Lorna Barrett, New York Times bestselling author of the Booktown Mysteries

“Excellent. . . . Reinforces James’s place in the top rank of cozy authors.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“James presents a sharply focused story that celebrates the role of the armchair investigator and his informants.”—Kirkus Reviews
Miranda James is the New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries, including Twelve Angry Librarians, No Cats Allowed, and Arsenic and Old Books, as well as the Southern Ladies Mysteries, including Fixing to Die, Digging Up the Dirt, and Dead with the Wind. James lives in Mississippi. Visit the author at catinthestacks.com and facebook.com/mirandajamesauthor. View titles by Miranda James

About

Librarian Charlie Harris and his ever-intuitive feline friend Diesel must catch a killer in a deadly game of cat and mouse where no one is who they seem to be...

At last, Charlie and Helen Louise’s wedding is only a month away. They’re busy preparing for the big day, and the last thing Charlie needs is a new mystery to solve. Enter Tara Martin, a shy, peculiar woman who has recently started working part-time at Helen Louise’s bistro and helping Charlie in the archive. Tara isn’t exactly friendly and she has an angry outburst at the library that leaves Charlie baffled. And then she abruptly leaves a catered housewarming party Charlie’s son Sean is throwing to celebrate his new home in the middle of her work shift. Before ducking out of the party, Tara looked terrified and Charlie wonders if she’s deliberately trying to escape notice. Is she hiding from someone?

When Tara is viciously attacked and lands in the hospital, Charlie knows his instincts were correct: Tara was in trouble and someone was after her. With the help of his much beloved cat, Diesel, Charlie digs deeper, and discovers shocking glimpses into Tara’s past that they could never have predicted. Will they catch the villain before Charlie’s own happily ever after with Helen Louise is ruined?

Excerpt

One

I felt the delicate touch of a tongue in my ear. At the same time a warm, furry body nestled against my head. I suppressed a groan as I detached the cat and set him aside on the bed.

"Thank you for your kiss," I said to the affectionate Ramses, the younger of my two felines. I threw off the covers and sat up. Ramses rubbed against my side and offered a plaintive meow.

A glance at the clock showed me that I had overslept. I must have forgotten to set my alarm last night. It was nearly seven o'clock, and normally on a workday I was up at six.

"Where's Diesel?" I looked at Ramses as if he could tell me the whereabouts of my Maine Coon cat. Ramses meowed again, a mournful sound. "Well, if you're that hungry, you should have gone downstairs with Diesel and found something to eat. I have to hurry."

Ramses jumped off the bed and disappeared through the slightly ajar bedroom door into the hall. I went into the bathroom, disrobed, and turned on the shower.

Twenty minutes later I entered the kitchen. Diesel, the Maine Coon, greeted me with a warble. Azalea Berry, the formidable septuagenarian who ran my household like a well-oiled machine, stood at the stove. Without turning, she said, "I guess that little scamp woke you up like I told him to."

"Yes, he did. I forgot to set my alarm last night." I took my usual place at the kitchen table. Azalea set a plate in front of me. Scrambled eggs; two sausage patties; a large spoonful of her thick, cheesy grits; and two pieces of buttered wheat toast lay before me. I picked up my fork and started eating. Azalea poured a cup of coffee. I felt completely spoiled, but Azalea resisted any attempts on my part to cut back on breakfast. She insisted it was the most important meal of the day, and I couldn't argue with her.

Besides, as I had often admitted to myself, I loved her breakfast meals. I really didn't want to miss one. I would rather have had breakfast than any other meal. The fact that she generally prepared lunch and dinner as well during the week was another matter entirely.

"How's that new girl at the library working out?" Azalea remained in place at the stove, but she had turned to regard me with approval as I ate.

"She's a good worker," I said after I swallowed a mouthful of grits. "Odd, though. I really can't get hold of her personality. She blurts out things without thinking, and they're usually not particularly tactful." I had to suppress a laugh. "The first day she worked, she told Melba she thought the green dress she had on made her look like a cucumber." Melba Gilley, my friend since childhood, was the administrative assistant to the Athena College library director.

"My goodness," Azalea said, taken aback. "I don't see that going over well."

"It didn't." Melba's expression could have curdled milk. "She told Tara that she loved cucumbers, turned on her heel, and left the room." I explained that Tara Martin was the young woman's name. "Tara didn't appear to realize she had said anything wrong. Melba's tone apparently didn't register with her."

"She said anything like that to you?" Azalea asked, her eyes narrowing.

"Several times," I replied, "but never anything really unpleasant." Her remark about my puffing a little as we reached the top of the stairs at work had nettled me a bit. I didn't feel in the least like a tired steam engine. I shared that with Azalea.

"That child needs to learn some manners." She turned back to the stove.

"She needs to learn not to blurt things out," I said after a bite of toast. "She can think what she likes, but her lack of tact puts people's backs up. The thing is, she doesn't seem to realize what she's done."

"She tries much more of that with Melba, she'll learn." Azalea dished up another breakfast plate and set it on the table across from me. She had apparently heard someone coming downstairs. I had been too intent on my eating to notice.

"Good morning, Charlie, Azalea. Boys." Stewart Delacorte, my longtime boarder, flashed his attractive smile at us as he swept into the room. "Azalea, you're a marvel. I didn't think I made that much noise coming down the stairs." He indicated his plate.

"My hearing's as sharp as it ever was." Azalea fixed him with her gimlet gaze, and Stewart grinned broadly.

"Of course," he said as he dug into his grits.

Azalea poured coffee in his cup, and he added cream to it. "I'm not as old and decrepit as some people like to think."

I noticed a certain heat in her words, and I wondered who had dared imply something like that. After a moment's reflection, I decided it must have been her daughter, chief deputy of the Athena County Sheriff's Department.

Stewart, braver than I was when it came to teasing Azalea, promptly said, "Is Kanesha out of the hospital yet?"

Azalea snorted. "She's lucky she didn't end up there." She threw a towel down on the counter and marched out of the room. She came right back, however, and set a plate of bacon on the table. She had cooked that for Diesel and Ramses, mostly. Then she disappeared again.

Stewart and I exchanged amused glances. Kanesha Berry had been trying for years to get her mother to retire. Kanesha didn't like the thought of her mother still working in her seventies, but Azalea was even more strong-minded than her daughter. Azalea had taken care of my aunt Dottie in her declining years. After I inherited the house, Azalea informed me that she intended to keep taking care of the house-and me-until the day she no longer could. I didn't argue, because she intimidated me. Not so much as she used to, but I didn't dare cross her, and she knew it.

"I guess Haskell is already up and at work," I said, referring to Stewart's partner, a sheriff's deputy, who shared the suite on the third floor of the house.

Stewart nodded and swallowed. "He had to be at work at seven. I'm hoping that nothing happens to cause him to have to work late. We don't want to miss the big shindig out at the farmhouse tonight."

"For both your sakes, I hope nothing interferes with your plans." I had been doling out bites of bacon to the cats, and in between I managed to gulp down the rest of my breakfast. I was going to be a few minutes late to the office.

I got up from the table and set my empty plate in the sink. After swallowing the last of my coffee, I told Diesel it was time for work. He accompanied me almost everywhere, and he loved going to the office. He knew Melba would be there, and he adored her. She lavished affection on him every time she saw him, even multiple times a day. We bade Stewart and Ramses goodbye and left the kitchen.

The mid-January day was chilly and overcast, so I decided that we would take the car today instead of walking the short distance to the Athena College campus as we did in more comfortable weather. Stewart kept Ramses occupied with bits of bacon while we sneaked out the back door into the garage. Diesel hopped into the backseat of the car, and soon we arrived at the old antebellum mansion that held the library's administrative offices and the archives and rare-book collection. I worked three days a week as archivist and rare-book cataloger, a job I thoroughly enjoyed.

Diesel and I entered the building through the back door, and he ambled ahead of me to Melba's office. I caught up with him, and he turned to me, meowing in disappointment. Melba wasn't there.

"Come on, boy. We'll catch her later." I started up the stairs, and he trotted quickly ahead. I glanced at my watch. We had arrived only seven minutes late.

Tara Martin stood at the door. She flashed a quick scowl at me before averting her face as she usually did. She rarely looked directly at me. "Now I can't put in my full two hours," she said before I could greet her and apologize for arriving late. "I can't stay to make up the time, either, because I need to get to the bistro to help get ready for lunch."

Suppressing the irritation I felt at her abrupt tone, I said, "I'm sorry we're late. I'll see that you don't lose your time because I overslept this morning." I pulled out my keys, inserted the correct one, and unlocked the door. Diesel paid no attention to Tara and scooted into the office. He made a beeline for his usual spot in the window ledge behind my desk.

Tara made no response to my remark as I flipped the light switches to illuminate the office that contained my desk, a desk for another worker, and shelves containing a small part of the rare-book collection. The rest of the books resided on shelves in other rooms, along with the archives, here on the second floor of the old mansion.

Tara marched straight to her desk, set her bag and her backpack down on the floor beside her chair, and removed her coat, a rather shabby trench coat at least an inch too long for her short, squat body. I could see streaks of dirt and mud along the hem.

I took my place at my desk, shedding my jacket onto the back of my chair. I woke my computer, wondering whether Tara would remain in a huff or deign to speak to me. After all, I had offered an apology.

"Thank you," she said as she approached my desk. "I appreciate it, especially since it's your responsibility to be here and unlock the door."

"Yes, it is." I kept my tone even, though her graceless words annoyed me further. She could easily have stopped at appreciate it, but that wasn't her style.

Diesel meowed suddenly, but Tara paid no attention. By now I had a full view of her clothing that her coat had concealed. Today she was wearing wrinkled drab-brown leggings, the rusty-looking black skirt, and the dowdy, slightly stained gray shirt. This was the worst I had seen her appearance yet, and I felt sorry for her. Evidently most of her clothing was old and without much style. She wouldn't be able to work in the main library looking like this. Even student workers had to be better dressed. I supposed she couldn't afford new clothes, despite her part-time job here and her part-time work at the French bistro of my soon-to-be wife, Helen Louise Brady.

The important thing was that she was a good worker, adept enough at the computer for the tasks I set her, and a remarkably accurate typist. She had been working for me for only a couple of weeks now, but I had quickly been impressed by her work ethic. For that I was willing to put up with her personal quirks, chiefly her tactlessness. I didn't know her well enough to try to coach her out of it, but if she was to work for me on an ongoing basis, I had little doubt I would give in to temptation to talk to her about it. If I didn't, I figured either Helen Louise or her partner at the bistro, Henry Hollister, probably would. They couldn't afford to let Tara alienate customers.

When I made no further comment, Tara settled at her desk and readied herself to continue her current task. The first week of December, the archive received a large donation of books from an alumna of the college, amounting to twenty-three good-sized boxes. Since it was politic to accept such gifts, particularly, as with this one, when they came with substantial donations to the college, I had no choice but to inventory the collection. We reserved the right to dispose of any items not suitable to our rare-book collection, especially if there were duplicates of titles we already owned.

Tara, who had proved adept with spreadsheets, was going through each box, checking every book for damage, such as mold, mildew, or stains, along with unstable hinges. She recorded author, title, publication information, and condition for each title. She had also numbered each box and included the box number for each book. Later, when the collection had been completely entered into the spreadsheet, I would check for duplicates against the items already cataloged. At some point afterward, I would begin cataloging the items selected for inclusion. I had quite a large quantity of books from other donors that had to be dealt with first, however, so it might be a year or more before I could accession any of these. Unless, of course, someone higher up decided this collection should take priority.

We worked quietly for a good quarter of an hour before a loud, jarring ringtone disturbed me. I looked up to see Tara grabbing her cell phone from beside her computer. She muttered, "Excuse me," before she hurried out of the office into the hallway.

She neglected to close the door behind her, however, and at first all I heard was the murmur of her voice. Then suddenly her volume increased, and I heard her clearly.

"I told you, I don't know who you think you're calling, I never heard that name." Then, seconds later, I heard a loud crunching sound.

Tara came back into the office, her shattered phone in her hand.

Two

She looked at me, a ferocious glint in her eye, as if she dared me to speak to her. She shoved the remains of her phone in her backpack and resumed her seat at the desk. Then I heard the tapping of the keys as she continued her work.

That was an extreme reaction to a wrong number, I thought. Was she mentally unstable? I hadn't witnessed such an outburst from her, if I could call it that, in the brief time I'd worked with her. I wanted to ask whether she was okay, but after studying her body language for a moment, I decided the better course of action was to ignore the episode.

I felt a paw on my shoulder and turned to see Diesel staring at me from the window next to my chair. He meowed softly, and I patted his head to reassure him. He always picked up on tension, and even I could feel it emanating from Tara in the aftermath of her destruction of her phone.

Diesel pushed his head against my head briefly before settling back into his resting position in the window. I turned back to my computer and tried to focus on my work. Thoughts of the odd behavior of my assistant continued to intrude, however, and I finally decided that I would talk to Helen Louise about it. I wondered whether Tara had done anything weird like this while working at the bistro. She might have been more likely to confide in Helen Louise if she was worried about something.

Reviews

PRAISE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING CAT IN THE STACKS MYSTERIES

“Let us now praise the cozy mystery, so comforting on dark days, so warming on chilly nights—the literary equivalent of a cat.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Courtly librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are an endearing detective duo. Warm, charming, and Southern as the tastiest grits.”—Carolyn Hart, New York Times bestselling author of the Death on Demand Mysteries

“Ideal for Christie fans who enjoy a good puzzle.”—Library Journal

“A pleasing blend of crime and charm.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“All my must-haves for a cozy mystery read: engaging story line, interesting and spunky characters . . . and a charming pet.”—Open Book Society

“Combines a kindhearted librarian hero . . . a sleepy Southern town, and a gentle giant of a cat that will steal your heart.”—Lorna Barrett, New York Times bestselling author of the Booktown Mysteries

“Excellent. . . . Reinforces James’s place in the top rank of cozy authors.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“James presents a sharply focused story that celebrates the role of the armchair investigator and his informants.”—Kirkus Reviews

Author

Miranda James is the New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries, including Twelve Angry Librarians, No Cats Allowed, and Arsenic and Old Books, as well as the Southern Ladies Mysteries, including Fixing to Die, Digging Up the Dirt, and Dead with the Wind. James lives in Mississippi. Visit the author at catinthestacks.com and facebook.com/mirandajamesauthor. View titles by Miranda James